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Scleroderma: Diagnosis and Treatment

It's important to understand that the treatment approach depends on how scleroderma presents itself. You can check out our previous blog on what scleroderma is and its manifestations.

Diagnosing Scleroderma

Skin Thickening: The primary sign that might make you suspect scleroderma is the thickening of your skin. This often starts in the hands, where you might notice a loss of wrinkles and increased puffiness, making it hard to close your hands. This tight, itchy skin can appear anywhere on the body. You might feel like you've had Botox, but your skin feels tighter than usual.

Raynaud's Phenomenon: Another common sign is Raynaud's phenomenon, where the tips of your fingers turn white in response to cold or abrupt temperature changes. This might happen, for example, when you move from a hot environment into an air-conditioned store. Raynaud's can occur on its own or be associated with other autoimmune conditions, including scleroderma.

Other Symptoms:

  • GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease): Acid reflux or heartburn is common in scleroderma patients.

  • Joint and Tendon Pain: This might include a tendon rub, which we discussed previously.

  • Lung Issues: Interstitial lung disease can cause shortness of breath or a persistent cough.

  • Heart Problems: You might experience chest pain or other heart-related symptoms.

  • Kidney Issues: Scleroderma can lead to a serious condition known as scleroderma renal crisis, characterized by a sudden decrease in kidney function.

  • Gastrointestinal Problems: These can include diarrhea, stomach pain, and difficulty digesting food.

Advanced Diagnostic Tools:

In cases where skin thickening isn't present, diagnosis can be tricky. Doctors look for other manifestations and perform tests for specific antibodies like ANA, SCL-70, and RNA polymerase III, which are associated with scleroderma.

Treating Scleroderma:

Tailored Treatment Plans: The treatment strategy for scleroderma is highly personalized, based on the specific symptoms and complications you have. Here’s a general approach:

  • Joint Involvement: We might use Plaquenil, which is not immunosuppressive.

  • Severe Cases: For severe, rapidly progressing cases, such as those with interstitial lung disease, we use stronger immunosuppressive agents immediately.


  • Mycophenolate Mofetil (MMF) and Methotrexate: Commonly used for skin and lung involvement.

  • Biologics: Drugs like Rituximab and Tocilizumab can be effective for both skin and lung disease.

Lifestyle and Supportive Treatments:

  • GERD Management: Avoid eating for three hours before lying down and elevate the head of your bed.

  • Raynaud's Phenomenon: Calcium channel blockers and vasodilators can help.

  • Pulmonary Hypertension: We have advanced treatments for this condition.

Holistic Approach: Combining modern medicine with lifestyle changes can significantly improve outcomes.

Importance of Early Diagnosis and Multidisciplinary Care:

Early Intervention: The sooner scleroderma is diagnosed and treated, the better the prognosis. Early treatment can prevent complications and lead to remission, allowing you to live a normal life.

Team-Based Care: Given the complexity of scleroderma, a multidisciplinary approach is crucial. Your care team might include rheumatologists, gastroenterologists, cardiologists, pulmonologists, and occupational therapists.

Remember, scleroderma is rare but treatable. Early diagnosis and tailored treatment are key to managing the disease effectively. Stay hopeful and proactive in your care, and always consult with specialists who have experience with scleroderma.

Are you, or someone you love, looking for a rheumatologist near you? Maybe you queried Google for the “best rheumatologist in Denver” and felt that no other arthritis clinic in Denver really seemed personable? Or maybe you are simply looking for a doctor who will listen to you and work with you to achieve disease remission? Well, you have come to the right place. UnabridgedMD has the best rheumatologist in Denver, Colorado and we cannot wait to work with you.

Click here to get in touch: 

Or give us a call: 303-731-4006

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