What are the symptoms of scleroderma?

There are different types of scleroderma. Each type has its own set of symptoms and the symptoms can be different for each person.

To diagnose scleroderma, doctors are looking for changes in the softness of skin; changes in skin color, particularly due to cold; swelling and blood vessel damage.

If a person has localized scleroderma, they usually have reddish patches of thickened, hardened skin. The patches are oval or in bands, about a half-inch to 12 inches long.

If a person has systemic scleroderma, they have one or more of these symptoms of CREST syndrome:

* Calcinosis (KAL-sin-OH-sis). Hard deposits of calcium salts just under the surface of the skin can emerge to the surface causing eruptions or ulcers. The exposed deposits can appear on the fingers, hands, face and waist. The ulcers can be very painful. The deposits are often at pressure points such as elbows and knees.

* Raynaud’s (ray-NOHZ) phenomenon. Fingers and toes turn white then blue because small blood vessels close due to cold or stress depriving these digits of blood. When blood flows back to the fingers and toes, they turn red. If Raynaud’s phenomenon is severe, prolonged, and left untreated, ulcers (raw, open sores that look like pits) can develop in the affected areas. If a person has finger ulcers, he or she needs to see a doctor, qualified to treat scleroderma, immediately due to the risk of losing part of a digit or getting a systemic infection. Raynaud’s phenomenon is an important symptom of systemic scleroderma but having Raynaud’s Phenomenon does not mean that a person has scleroderma. For an accurate diagnosis, see a qualified physician.

* Esophageal (eh-SOFF-uh-GEE-ul) dysfunction. You may have heartburn and trouble swallowing because collagen builds up in the smooth muscle around the esophagus that makes it hard for the throat to push the food to the stomach. The flap or sphincter (SFINK-ter) that separates the esophagus from the stomach loses its muscle tone. When the sphincter loses its muscle tone, acid from the stomach can enter the esophagus and cause severe damage. Through aspiration, the acid may also enter the lungs and cause damage.

* Sclerodactyly (sklair-oh-DAK-till-ee). Fingers swell and stiffen because the body produces too much collagen in them. Fingers can lose their hair, look shiny or darken.

* Telangiectasias (tel-AN-jee-ek-TAY-zee-uhs). Small red spots appear on fingers, palms, forearms, face and lips because blood vessels in these areas swell.

* Shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, fainting, chronic fatigue, and dry cough. IF YOU OR SOMONE YOU KNOW ARE EXPERIENCING ANY OF THESE SYMPTOMS, SEE A DOCTOR RIGHT AWAY. These symptoms can be associated with pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), which is another very dangerous complication from scleroderma. PAH is high blood pressure in the arteries that supply blood to the lungs.