By Annette Pinder

According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, Scleroderma is an autoimmune, rheumatic, and chronic disease that affects the body by hardening connective tissue, which is made of many kinds of proteins, including skin collagen. In fact, the term scleroderma means hard skin.

As with all autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system is working against itself. While a normal immune system protects the body and fights off foreign invaders, such as viruses and infections, an unhealthy immune system mistakes a person’s own tissues as foreign invaders and attacks them. Such is the case with scleroderma, in which cells make collagen thinking that there is an injury that needs to be fixed, resulting in the production of too much collagen. Too much collagen in th tissues can prevent the body’s organs from functioning normally.

There are different degrees of scleroderma. In some people, it is a mild annoyance, while others experience significant problems that can even become life-threatening. Most people experience scleroderma episodes during which the illness improves or even goes into remission.

Although scleroderma lasts a lifetime, and its cause is unknown. While there is no cure, there are treatments that can effectively prevent or limit the damage it can cause. Considered a rare disease, scleroderma affects fewer than 500,000 people in the United States, and six out of seven patients are women. While scleroderma is typically diagnosed between the ages of 35 and 50, young children and older adults can get the disease.

Despite the fact that scleroderma does not appear to run in families, it is common for individuals diagnosed to have family members with other autoimmune diseases like thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus. African Americans and Native Americans generally have more severe scleroderma than Caucasians. This research suggests that there is a hereditary component to scleroderma and other autoimmune disorders.

According to Johns Hopkins, “Environmental factors could also put people at risk for scleroderma, noting that men exposed to silica appear to have a higher risk for developing the disease, and that certain drugs are capable of causing a scleroderma-like reaction.

Early signs of scleroderma are fingers that become very sensitive to cold and change color with cold or emotional stress, and finger color changes caused by spasm and narrowing of blood vessels. This occurs because of excess collagen that narrows the blood vessels causing skin blood vessels to over-react to cold temperatures and emotional stress.

The manner in which scleroderma changes over time varies among those who have it. Most patients experience mild symptoms, while others are more severe. It can take months to years for the full extent of the disease to develop. 

Learn more about scleroderma, including available support at