Scleroderma (Systemic Sclerosis) Treatment in Metro Atlanta

Overview of Scleroderma (Systemic Sclerosis)

Scleroderma, also known as systemic sclerosis, is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues. This condition can affect various parts of the body, including the skin, blood vessels, internal organs, and the digestive tract. Scleroderma is classified into two main types: localized scleroderma, which affects only the skin, and systemic sclerosis, which affects the internal organs as well. At Arthritis and Rheumatology of Georgia (ARG), we specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of scleroderma to help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for our patients.

Symptoms of Scleroderma

  • Skin Changes: Hardening and tightening of the skin, often starting with swelling and redness.
  • Raynaud’s Phenomenon: Fingers and toes turning white or blue in response to cold or stress.
  • Digestive Issues: Heartburn, difficulty swallowing, and reduced absorption of nutrients.
  • Joint Pain and Stiffness: Similar to symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Swelling of Hands and Feet: Due to fluid retention.
  • Shortness of Breath: Caused by lung involvement.
  • Kidney Problems: High blood pressure and kidney failure in severe cases.

Diagnosis of Scleroderma

  • Physical Examination: Conducted by a rheumatologist at Arthritis and Rheumatology of Georgia to check for skin changes, joint pain, and other symptoms of scleroderma.
  • Blood Tests:
    • Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) Test: Commonly positive in scleroderma patients.
    • Anti-Scl-70 Antibodies: Specific markers for systemic sclerosis.
    • Anticentromere Antibodies: Associated with limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis.
  • Imaging Tests:
    • Chest X-rays: To check for lung involvement.
    • CT Scan: To detect lung fibrosis and other internal organ involvement.
    • Echocardiogram: To assess heart function and detect pulmonary hypertension.
  • Pulmonary Function Tests: To measure lung capacity and function.
  • Skin Biopsy: Removal of a small piece of skin to check for changes characteristic of scleroderma.

Treatment Options for Scleroderma

  • Medications:
    • NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
    • Corticosteroids: To reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system.
    • Immunosuppressants: Drugs such as methotrexate, mycophenolate mofetil, and cyclophosphamide to control the immune system.
    • Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPIs): To manage heartburn and acid reflux.
    • Calcium Channel Blockers: To treat Raynaud’s phenomenon by dilating blood vessels.
  • Therapies:
    • Physical Therapy: Exercises to maintain joint flexibility and muscle strength.
    • Occupational Therapy: Techniques to manage daily activities and protect joints.
    • Infusion Therapy: Administered in our in-house infusion suite for medications requiring intravenous delivery.
  • Lifestyle Changes:
    • Skin Care: Using moisturizers and avoiding harsh soaps to care for affected skin.
    • Diet: Eating a balanced diet to support digestive health and reduce inflammation.
    • Exercise: Regular, low-impact activities to maintain overall health.
    • Smoking Cessation: Quitting smoking to improve circulation and lung health.
  • Surgical Options:
    • Lung Transplant: In severe cases of lung involvement.
    • Digital Sympathectomy: To improve blood flow to fingers affected by severe Raynaud’s phenomenon.

Living with Scleroderma

  • Managing Skin Changes: Using medications and proper skin care to relieve symptoms.
  • Joint Pain Management: Using medications and physical therapy to manage pain and maintain function.
  • Digestive Health: Following dietary recommendations and taking medications to manage digestive symptoms.
  • Regular Check-Ups: Keeping up with appointments to monitor disease progression and treatment efficacy.
  • Medication Adherence: Taking prescribed medications as directed to manage symptoms and prevent complications.

Frequently Asked Questions | Scleroderma

What causes scleroderma?
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disorder with an unknown exact cause. It is believed to result from a combination of genetic, environmental, and immune system factors.

How is scleroderma diagnosed?
Scleroderma is diagnosed through a combination of physical examinations, blood tests, imaging studies, pulmonary function tests, and skin biopsies.

Can lifestyle changes help manage scleroderma symptoms?
Yes, maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, proper skin care, and smoking cessation can help manage symptoms and improve overall health.

What are the common triggers for scleroderma symptoms?
Common triggers include stress, cold exposure, and certain medications.

Is scleroderma hereditary?
There is a genetic component to scleroderma, but having a family member with the condition does not guarantee that you will develop it.

What is the role of immunosuppressants in treating scleroderma?
Immunosuppressants help control the immune system, reducing inflammation and preventing damage to tissues.

How can I manage digestive issues associated with scleroderma?
Managing digestive issues involves following dietary recommendations, taking prescribed medications, and avoiding foods that trigger symptoms.

Contact Arthritis and Rheumatology of Georgia

For comprehensive scleroderma care, schedule an appointment with Arthritis and Rheumatology of Georgia. Call us at 404-255-5956 or use our online contact form. We proudly serve patients in the metro Atlanta area and beyond, providing expert care and personalized treatment plans.

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