What Is Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is a medical term for a disease that causes hardening and thickening of the skin or the connective tissues (the fibers that support your skin and internal organs).
There are two main types of scleroderma: localized and systemic. While localized scleroderma only affects your skin, systemic scleroderma affects not only your skin, but also your blood vessels and internal organs (such as your heart and lungs).
What Causes It?
The exact cause of scleroderma is unknown. However, it's thought that abnormal activity in the immune system causes cells to overproduce collagen, which in turn causes connective tissue to build up. For that reason, it is known as an autoimmune disease, meaning a disease of the immune system.
Certain factors may increase your scleroderma risk. These include:
African-Americans and certain groups of Native Americans (including Choctaw Native Americans in Oklahoma) also appear to be at an increased risk for scleroderma or its complications.
Symptoms of Scleroderma
Morphea (one type of localized scleroderma) is marked by oval-shaped, thickened patches of skin that are white in the center and have a purple border.
Linear scleroderma (the other type of localized scleroderma) is marked by bands or streaks of hardened skin on the arms, legs or forehead.
In people with systemic scleroderma, symptoms vary depending on the bodily area affected by the disorder.
Scleroderma also may produce the following symptoms:
Since scleroderma can lead to life-threatening complications (such as severe damage to the heart, lungs, and kidneys), it's important to seek medical attention if you show signs of this disorder.
Although at present time there's no way to halt the overproduction of collagen and cure scleroderma, certain medical treatments can help manage symptoms and limit damage. Treatment depends on the affected areas, and may include use of medication, surgery, and/or physical therapy.
Natural Remedies for Scleroderma
There's little scientific evidence to support the use of alternative medicine in treatment of scleroderma. However, the following remedies may be useful for individuals looking to manage this condition.
1) Vitamin D
In a 2009 study of 156 people with systemic scleroderma, researchers found that vitamin D insufficiency and deficiency rates were very high among people with the disorder. The study's authors note that common vitamin D supplementation does not appear to correct the deficiency in scleroderma patients, and that a higher dose is most likely needed for such individuals.
If you're coping with systemic scleroderma, consult your doctor to determine an appropriate daily dosage of vitamin D (a nutrient thought to help regulate the immune system).
2) Vitamin E
Topical application of vitamin E gel may reduce healing time and soothe pain in people with digital ulcers caused by systemic scleroderma, according to a 2009 study of 27 patients.
Past research suggests that vitamin E may have antifibrotic action and help to curb the buildup of excess tissue.
Gaby AR. "Natural remedies for scleroderma." Altern Med Rev. 2006 11(3):188-95.
Fiori G, Fiori G, Galluccio F, Braschi F, Amanzi L, Miniati I, Conforti ML, Del Rosso A, Generini S, Candelieri A, Magonio A, Goretti R, Rasero L. "Vitamin E gel reduces time of healing of digital ulcers in systemic sclerosis." Clin Exp Rheumatol. 2009 27(3 Suppl 54):51-4.
Vacca A, Cormier C, Piras M, Mathieu A, Kahan A, Allanore Y. "Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency in 2 independent cohorts of patients with systemic sclerosis." J Rheumatol. 2009 36(9):1924-9.