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Scleroderma – Types, Symptoms, And Causes + Natural Treatment Options

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Scleroderma – Types, Symptoms, And Causes + Natural Treatment Options Hyderabd040-395603080 August 6, 2019

Scleroderma is a relatively rare autoimmune disorder affects 75,000 to 100,000 individuals in the US. It mostly affects women between 30 to 50 years of age.

Your skin is the largest organ in the body, and you have to do everything possible to keep it safe and healthy. Unfortunately, one of the main targets of scleroderma is your skin. The autoimmune nature of the disease can cause long-term damage to your skin. It may end up giving you textured and thicker skin all over your body. Scleroderma can also damage your internal organs. While the condition is chronic and cannot be cured completely, managing its symptoms can help a great deal. Keep reading to find out how you can do that.

Table Of Contents

What Is Scleroderma?

Scleroderma refers to a range of autoimmune disorders that causes your skin and connective tissue to harden and tighten. It is a chronic disease that tends to get worse as it progresses.

Scleroderma is also referred to as crest syndrome and systemic sclerosis. It is considered to be a rheumatic disease.

Scleroderma occurs due to a problem with the immune system that causes increased collagen production. Collagen is a protein that holds the bones, muscles, tendons, and your skin together. Overproduction of collagen causes your tissues to scar and thicken. Scleroderma may be mild to potentially fatal in its severity.

Scleroderma is mainly classified into two types:

  • Localized scleroderma
  • Systemic scleroderma

Listed below are the scleroderma types along with the symptoms that surface with each type.

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Symptoms And Types Of Scleroderma‎

  • Localized Scleroderma

Localized scleroderma mainly affects the skin, although it may also impact your muscles and bones. It is the mildest form of scleroderma and does not affect the internal organs. It is further divided into two types – morphea and linear scleroderma.

The symptoms of morphea scleroderma include light or dark patches on your skin that are oval-shaped.

Those with linear scleroderma may develop bands or streaks of hardened skin on the limbs. It usually affects the bones and muscles.

  • Systemic Scleroderma

Systemic scleroderma affects the entire body, including your blood and internal organs like your kidneys, esophagus, lungs, and heart. Its two main types are limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis syndrome (CREST) and diffuse systemic sclerosis.

Limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis syndrome (CREST) is the least severe type of the disease. It usually affects the skin on your hands, face, feet, and lower arms and legs. It is also termed CREST syndrome because its symptoms form the acronym, CREST, which stands for:

C – Calcinosis (formation of calcium deposits in tissues and under the skin)

R – Raynaud’s disease

E – Esophageal diseases like GERD

S – Sclerodactyly (formation of thick skin on the fingers)

T – Telangiectasis (enlargement of blood vessels that manifests as red spots)

Diffuse systemic sclerosis is characterized by the thickening of the skin of your hands up to your wrists. This can also affect your internal organs. Affected individuals often experience symptoms of weakness, fatigue, weight loss, and difficulty in breathing and swallowing.

Overall, the symptoms of scleroderma include:

  • Stiffness, tightness, and puffiness of your fingers and hands due to emotional stress or sensitivity to cold
  • Swelling in the feet
  • Calcium deposition
  • Narrowing of blood vessels in the hands and feet (Raynaud’s disease)
  • Problems with the esophagus
  • Thickening of the skin on the fingers
  • Formation of red spots on the face and hands

The exact cause of this condition is yet to be determined. But, since it is an autoimmune disease, problems with the functioning of your immune system could be the main cause. Other factors that can cause scleroderma or increase its risk are listed below.

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Causes And Risk Factors

One of the main causes of scleroderma is believed to be the overproduction of collagen – a protein that forms the building block of connective tissues. This may lead to the thickening and subsequent scarring of the affected tissues.

Another factor that could be responsible for the development of scleroderma is genes. However, this isn’t confirmed yet.

A family history of autoimmune diseases is often traced in individuals with scleroderma, making it another factor that could be contributing to the development of the condition.

Other factors that can increase your risk of getting scleroderma are:

  • Age – Those between 30 and 50 years of age are more likely to develop scleroderma.
  • Gender – This disease is more common in women.
  • Medical conditions like diabetes increase your risk of developing scleroderma.
  • Exposure to environmental factors like silica dust and certain chemicals like vinyl chloride.
  • Medications like carbidopa and bleomycin also increase your risk.

Scleroderma is quite difficult to diagnose as it surfaces gradually and in different forms. Hence, your doctor may carry out the following tests to diagnose it.

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Diagnosis

Your physician may carry out a physical examination along with some other tests to diagnose scleroderma. Such tests include:

  • Observing the skin under a microscope to look for any changes
  • Biopsy
  • Blood tests to assess the levels of different antibodies in it

Your doctor may also look for signs of skin thickening, shortness of breath, GERD, and calcium deposition before diagnosing your condition.

Once you have been positively diagnosed with scleroderma, your doctor may suggest any of the treatments listed below.

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Treatment Methods

Medical treatments for scleroderma include:

  • Blood pressure medications to dilate your blood vessels and help treat Raynaud’s disease that surfaces from scleroderma
  • Immunosuppressants to suppress your immune system activities
  • Physical therapy to manage symptoms of pain and improve your mobility and strength
  • Laser surgery and/or ultraviolet light therapy to improve the appearance and condition of your skin

Researchers are on the lookout for more treatments to treat scleroderma.

Here are some natural alternatives to manage this condition.

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How To Manage Scleroderma Naturally

  1. Vitamin D
  2. Essential Oils
  3. Gotu Kola
  4. Turmeric
  5. Garlic
  6. Onion
  7. Lemon
  8. Gram Flour
  9. Fish Oil
  10. Ginger
  11. Cottage Cheese

Home Remedies To Manage Scleroderma Symptoms

1. Vitamin D

Vitamin D Pinit

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You Will Need

10-100 mcg vitamin D

What You Have To Do
  1. Consume 10-100 mcg of vitamin D.
  2. You can either consume foods rich in vitamin D like fatty fish, cheese, and egg yolk or take supplements for it.
  3. Consult a doctor before taking supplements.
How Often You Should Do This

Do this on a daily basis.

Why This Works

Vitamin D exhibits immunomodulatory, antifibrotic, and cardioprotective effects and is a great way to manage the symptoms of scleroderma. Most sclerodermic individuals are also deficient in vitamin D, thus signifying the need for its supplementation (1).

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2. Essential Oils

a. Peppermint Oil

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You Will Need
  • 6 drops of peppermint oil
  • 1 teaspoon of coconut oil (or any other carrier oil)
What You Have To Do
  1. Add six drops of peppermint oil to a teaspoon of coconut oil.
  2. Mix well and apply it to the affected area.
  3. Leave it on for 30 minutes or overnight.
  4. Rinse it off.
  5. Alternatively, you can inhale the pleasant aroma of the oil using a diffuser.
How Often You Should Do This

You can do this 1 to 2 times daily.

Why This Works

Peppermint oil has a soothing and anti-inflammatory effect on inflamed and swollen skin due to the presence of menthol. It can also help alleviate symptoms of pain (2).

b. Lavender Oil

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You Will Need
  • 6 drops of lavender oil
  • 1 teaspoon of coconut oil (or any other carrier oil)
What You Have To Do
  1. Add six drops of lavender oil to a teaspoon of any carrier oil.
  2. Mix well and apply it to the affected skin.
  3. Leave it on for 20 to 30 minutes or preferably overnight.
  4. Rinse it off.
  5. You can also inhale the pleasant aroma of lavender oil using a diffuser.
How Often You Should Do This

You can do this 1 to 2 times daily.

Why This Works

With its anti-inflammatory and analgesic effects, it is no surprise that lavender oil works wonderfully in treating the pain and inflammation that surface with scleroderma (3). It also relieves stress (4).

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3. Gotu Kola

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You Will Need
  • ½ teaspoon of dried gotu kola
  • 1 glass of hot water
What You Have To Do
  1. Add half a teaspoon of dried gotu kola to a cup of hot water.
  2. Steep for 5 to 7 minutes and strain.
  3. Drink the hot tea.
How Often You Should Do This

Drink Gotu kola tea 1 to 3 times daily.

Why This Works

Gotu kola (Centella asiatica) is a medicinal herb that is known to stabilize the connective tissues and promote the health of your blood vessels. It is also capable of alleviating symptoms of inflammation and stress (5).

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4. Turmeric

Turmeric Pinit

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You Will Need
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • 1 glass of hot milk or water
What You Have To Do
  1. Add a teaspoon of turmeric powder to a glass of hot milk or water.
  2. Mix well.
  3. Drink the solution.
  4. You can also apply a paste made of turmeric and water to the affected skin and leave it on for a few minutes.
How Often You Should Do This

You can do this once daily.

Why This Works

Turmeric is a rich source of curcumin. Supplementation with curcumin was observed to suppress the fibrotic process leading to the overproduction of collagen and the development of scleroderma (6).

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5. Garlic

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You Will Need

1-2 peeled garlic cloves

What You Have To Do
  1. Take one to two garlic cloves and cut them.
  2. Rub the cut garlic on the affected area.
  3. Leave it on for at least 20 to 30 minutes before rinsing it off.
How Often You Should Do This

Do this once daily.

Why This Works

While consumption of garlic can worsen symptoms of GERD associated with scleroderma, its topical application can work wonders in relieving the inflammation and swelling of the skin (7).

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6. Onion

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You Will Need

A small onion

What You Have To Do
  1. Cut a small onion into half.
  2. Rub half of the onion on the affected area gently.
  3. Allow the onion extract to work on the skin for 20 to 30 minutes.
  4. Rinse it off with water.
How Often You Should Do This

Do this 1 to 2 times daily.

Why This Works

Onions are rich in compounds like thiosulfinates and cepaene that exhibit anti-inflammatory activities. This helps in alleviating the symptoms of inflammation and swelling (8).

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7. Lemon

Lemon Pinit

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You Will Need
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon of honey
What You Have To Do
  1. Extract the juice from a lemon.
  2. Mix it with a teaspoon of honey.
  3. Apply the mixture to the affected skin.
  4. Leave it on for 20 minutes.
  5. Rinse it off with water.
How Often You Should Do This

You must do this once daily.

Why This Works

The topical application of lemon juice helps to soften the thickened skin and reduces the inflammation and swelling (9).

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8. Gram Flour

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You Will Need
  • 2 teaspoons of gram flour
  • Water (as required)
What You Have To Do
  1. Add a little water to two teaspoons of gram flour to form a paste.
  2. Apply the paste evenly to the affected area and leave it on for at least 20 minutes.
  3. Wash it off with water.
  4. You can also use this mixture as a natural replacement for soap.
How Often You Should Do This

Apply this to your skin at least once daily.

Why This Works

Gram flour can help smoothen rough and thickened skin. It also helps your skin regain its lost texture.

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9. Fish Oil (Omega 3)

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You Will Need

250-500 mg of fish oil or omega-3

What You Have To Do
  1. Consume 250 to 500 mg of fish oil daily.
  2. You can consume fatty fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel.
  3. Alternatively, you can take fish oil supplements.
How Often You Should Do This

Incorporate fish oil into your daily diet.

Why This Works

Fish oil is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids that help reduce inflammation and swelling in your body. Ingestion of fish oil can also prevent Raynaud’s disease, which is one of the characteristics of scleroderma (10).

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10. Ginger

Ginger Pinit

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You Will Need
  • 1-2 inches of ginger
  • 1 cup of hot water
What You Have To Do
  1. Add 1 to 2 inches of ginger to a cup of hot water.
  2. Steep for 5 to 10 minutes and strain.
  3. Drink the hot tea.
How Often You Should Do This

You can drink ginger tea 2 to 3 times daily.

Why This Works

Ginger has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that help inhibit pain-producing prostaglandins in your body, thus helping you manage the symptoms of scleroderma (11).

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11. Cottage Cheese (Paneer)

Cottage Cheese (Paneer) Pinit

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You Will Need

2 servings of cottage cheese

What You Have To Do
  1. Add cottage cheese to salads or your favorite dishes.
How Often You Should Do This

You can consume cottage cheese once daily.

Why This Works

Cottage cheese is a rich source of sulfur and helps in the easier absorption of oil as well as other nutrients into your cells. This increases your energy levels and helps you deal with scleroderma better.

Other than these remedies, another natural way to manage the symptoms of scleroderma is to alter your diet. The following is a diet specially created for those struggling with scleroderma.

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Scleroderma Diet

In general, those suffering from scleroderma are advised to eat small meals every 3 to 4 hours.

Consume more antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herbs and spices like the following.

Foods To Eat

  • Basil
  • Rosemary
  • Oregano
  • Cinnamon
  • Paprika
  • Ginger
  • Cayenne
  • Turmeric

You should try and restrict the foods listed below from your diet.

Foods To Avoid

  • Free sugars
  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine

If you experience symptoms of GERD, avoid foods like:

  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes
  • Greasy foods
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Spicy food
  • Carbonated beverages

If you are looking for other ways to manage your symptoms, the following tips might help.

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Tips To Manage Scleroderma

  • Have smaller and frequent meals.
  • Avoid eating a couple of hours before bedtime.
  • Keep your skin well moisturized.
  • Avoid injuring your fingers.
  • Keep warm to avoid circulatory issues.
  • Indulge in exercises that can alleviate stiffness.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Avoid using recreational drugs.
  • Get enough rest and sleep.
  • Practice yoga to manage your anxiety and stress levels.
  • Avoid processed or junk foods.
  • Avoid taking herbs like echinacea that are known to boost the activities of your immune system.

Individuals affected by scleroderma also need emotional support from family and friends to cope better. Keeping this in mind, do not hesitate to lend a helping hand if you know someone who is suffering from this condition.

For any more doubts related to this condition, feel free to get in touch with us through the comments box below.

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Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions

When to visit a doctor for scleroderma?

When it comes to serious health conditions like scleroderma, it is better to consult a doctor if you notice any of the symptoms – like swelling, thickening of the fingers, etc.

Is scleroderma life-threatening?

The symptoms of scleroderma usually vary from person to person. They can be mild or even life-threatening.

How long can you live with scleroderma?

Women who are affected by scleroderma have a life expectancy that is 22.4 years shorter than the general population whereas, for men, it is 26 years. Around 24.2% of the population dies within 8 years of developing the disorder.

What is the prognosis for scleroderma?

Those with scleroderma have a lower life expectancy as compared to the general population.

References

  1. Low vitamin D status in systemic sclerosis and the impact on disease phenotype” European Journal of Rheumatology and Inflammation, US National Library of Medicine
  2. The anti-inflammatory activity of L-menthol compared to mint oil in human monocytes in vitro: a novel perspective for its therapeutic use in inflammatory diseases” European Journal of Medical Research, US National Library of Medicine
  3. Antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of lavender essential oil” Anais da Academia Brasileira de Ciência, US National Library of Medicine
  4. Effect of lavender scent inhalation on prevention of stress, anxiety and depression in the postpartum period” Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, US National Library of Medicine
  5. Pharmacological Review on Centella asiatica: A Potential Herbal Cure-all” Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, US National Library of Medicine
  6. Curcumin suppresses TGF-β signaling by inhibition of TGIF degradation in scleroderma fibroblasts” Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications, US National Library of Medicine
  7. Immunomodulation and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Garlic Compounds” Journal of Immunology Research, US National Library of Medicine
  8. Anti-inflammatory effects of onions: inhibition of chemotaxis of human polymorphonuclear leukocytes by thiosulfinates and cepaenes” International Archives of Allergy and Immunology, US National Library of Medicine
  9. Anti-inflammatory effect of lemon mucilage: in vivo and in vitro studies” Immunopharmacology and Immunotoxicology, US National Library of Medicine
  10. Fish-oil dietary supplementation in patients with Raynaud’s phenomenon: a double-blind, controlled, prospective study” American Journal of Medicine, US National Library of Medicine
  11. Anti-Oxidative and Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Ginger in Health and Physical Activity: Review of Current Evidence” International Journal of Preventive Medicine, US National Library of Medicine