Scleroderma is a term used for describing a group of chronic skin disorders associated with an overactive immune system. The diseases categorized as Scleroderma are autoimmune conditions of the connective tissue --- the fibers which provide the framework and support for the body.
In Scleroderma, connective tissues become tight and hard due to the formation of fibrosis (scar tissue) in the skin. The condition is characterized by the thickening of the skin, spontaneous scarring, blood vessel problems, as well as pain and inflammation of varying degrees.
Since Scleroderma is an autoimmune condition, it occurs when the body's immune system attacks its own tissues. As a result of the activation of the immune system in affected individuals, the inner layer of small blood vessels and the tissues get damaged, and lead to the formation of scar tissue and accumulation of excess collagen.
Scleroderma is a long-term, progressive disease which becomes worse over a period of time. This disease can cause changes to the skin, muscles, blood vessels, and internal organs. When the disease causes skin changes in isolated areas on the body, it is categorized as 'Localized Scleroderma'; and, when it affects internal organs, it is categorized as 'Systemic Scleroderma.' The internal organs commonly affected in Systemic Scleroderma include the esophagus, bowels, lungs, kidneys, and heart. The disease can also lead to high blood pressure and renal crisis (kidney failure).
The occurrence of Scleroderma is more commonly reported in women as compared to men, and between 30-50 years of age. The exact cause of scleroderma is not known, though it is believed that hereditary and environmental factors -- such as viral infections, radiation therapy, or organic solvents – possibly play a role in its development.
The symptoms of Scleroderma largely depend on whether the disease is localized or widespread, and how it affects the sufferers. In addition, the symptoms of the disease are also dependent on whether it affects one part of the body or a whole body system.
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