Signs and Symptoms of Scleroderma

Posted on 06/02/2016

Scleroderma occurs when there is an abnormal amount or overproduction of collagen in the skin. It can affect the skin, blood vessels, joints and possibly internal organs, like the lungs and kidneys.


As depicted in the diagram above, there are two main types of scleroderma: localized and systemic (SSc). According to The Scleroderma Foundation (, about 300,000 Americans have scleroderma, and 1/3 of those have systemic scleroderma. There is no clear reason as to why this disease occurs in the first place, but the effect of the disease can vary from mild to life threatening. 

We do know that scleroderma can affect any age group, but typically is diagnosed ages 25-55. Also, women are diagnosed with scleroderma more often than men at a 4-1 ratio. Some might assume that this disease is passed through genetics, but there is no proof that that is the case. 

So what ISN'T Scleroderma?

  • It's not contagious
  • It's not infectious
  • It's not cancerous
  • It's not malignant

Scleroderma is a chronic disease; and symptoms vary greatly between each person. Everyone's case is different, which can make understanding this condition somewhat difficult.

Localized Scleroderma

  • Only found in a few places (ex. skin, muscles)
  • Usually relatively mild 
  • Typically internal organs are not affected

Morphea usually has waxy patches on the skin varying in sizes, shapes, and colors. It is possible for the patches to disappear randomly, and this type of sclerosis is often seen in young children.

Linear scleroderma typically starts in a streak or line on an arm, leg, or forehead. This type typically involves the deeper layers of the skin and can affect the joints.

  • Systemic Scleroderma (SSc) 
  • May affect connective tissue
  • Can involve skin, esophagus, GI tract, lungs, kidneys, heart, and internal organs as well as blood vessels, joints and muscles
  • Whichever organ is affected can function less efficiently 

When dealing with diffuse scleroderma, the skin thickens much faster and involves more skin areas. Having this form can increase your likeliness to develop sclerosis (fibrous hardening of internal organs).

The skin changes of limited scleroderma are usually confined to the fingers, hands and face. This type develops slowly over the years and the skin involvement is less severe than diffuse.  Despite the milder skin changes, there can still be serious internal organ involvement requiring the close monitoring of a rheumatologist.

Almost all patients with systemic scleroderma experience a vascular process causing Raynaud's phenomenon. This is a condition where fingers or toes become pale white or even blue, occasionally with associated numbness. The episodes are usually brought on by exposure to the cold.  Patients who develop new onset Raynaud's phenomenon should be evaluated for the possibility of an underlying rheumatic disorder, such as systemic scleroderma, particularly if it develops later in life.

If you have questions about symptoms, or would like to schedule a consultation appointment don't hesitate give us a call!