What is diffuse scleroderma?

scleroderma is a condition in which the body's tissue gradually becomes thick and stiff. There are two main forms of the condition: localized and diffuse. Localized scleroderma tends to be less severe because it mainly affects the skin. Diffuse scleroderma, also known as systemic sclerosis, is the most severe form of the condition and can cause stiffness not only in the skin, but also in the connective tissues surrounding internal organs.

One of the first signs of diffuse scleroderma is noticeable changes in the appearance and texture of the skin. Fingers and other extremities may swell and the skin may have a shiny appearance and patches of hardened skin. The skin may also begin to have a tighter texture that makes moving the limbs difficult or painful.

As the condition begins to worsen, it can spread to other connective tissues and affect internal organs. The exact symptoms generally vary in the individual because the condition can affect different organs in different cases. A common symptom of diffuse scleroderma is a condition known as Raynaud's phenomenon, in which the blood vessels in the hands and feet begin to narrow, causing tingling, numbness, or pain in the fingers and toes. Scleroderma that causes thickening of the connective tissues of internal organs can also make the affected organ, such as the heart or kidneys, unable to function properly.

The cause of diffuse scleroderma is usually the result of the body producing too much collagen, a tough protein that occurs naturally in the skin and connective tissues. This excessive collagen production is thought to be due to a malfunction of the body's immune system, the natural set of mechanisms the body uses to protect itself and fight disease. After the immune system begins to malfunction in cases of sclerosis, it is thought that it may cause the body to produce more collagen than necessary, although why this occurs has not been conclusively proven. Some medical researchers believe this may be the result of genetics because the condition can run in families.

Diffuse scleroderma does not have a definitive cure to prevent the immune system from causing the body to produce excessive amounts of collagen. Some of the symptoms of the condition can be treated to improve quality of life. Immunosuppressive drugs, drugs that stop the immune system from carrying out its normal responses, may be taken to prevent the immune system from continuing to fight the body; however, this can make a person more likely to get seriously ill from common illnesses or viruses that are usually not serious because of the immune system's ability to fight them off. Physical therapists may also work with multiple sclerosis patients to help them learn how to more easily maneuver their tense limbs and perform daily activities.

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