Scleroderma encompasses a group of chronic connective tissue diseases that are generally classified as autoimmune rheumatic diseases.

In autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. Normal immune systems provide protection from invaders such as viruses. However, autoimmune diseases result in an inability to distinguish foreign from self; immune cells attack the body’s own tissue, resulting in inflammation and damage. Rheumatic diseases involve chronic, often intermittent, pain affecting joints and/or connective tissue.

It is estimated that around 300,000 Americans have scleroderma.

About 1/3 have the systemic form. However, there may be many misdiagnosed or undiagnosed cases of scleroderma because it presents with symptoms similar to other autoimmune diseases and diagnosis is difficult. Female patients outnumber male patients about 4 to 1. Although scleroderma develops in every age group (from infants to the elderly), onset occurs most frequently between the ages of 25 to 55. There are many exceptions to the “rules” in scleroderma (perhaps more than in other diseases); each case is different. Factors such as race and ethnic background may also influence a person’s likelihood of getting scleroderma, the age of onset, and the pattern or severity of internal organ involvement. 

The severity of scleroderma can vary greatly between patients.

For some, scleroderma is a mild condition. For others, it is life-threatening. The seriousness depends on which parts of the body are affected and the extent to which they are affected. If not properly treated, a mild case of scleroderma can become more serious. Prompt and proper diagnosis and treatment may lessen the chance for irreversible damage and minimize symptoms.

The exact cause(s) of scleroderma remain unknown.

Scientists and medical professionals are working on determining the cause(s) of scleroderma, which is known to involve an overproduction of collagen.

Most patients with scleroderma do not have any relatives with scleroderma and their children do not get scleroderma.

However, research suggests that there may be a susceptibility gene. This gene raises the chance of getting scleroderma, but the gene itself does not cause scleroderma.

Currently, there is no cure for scleroderma.

Although the cure for scleroderma has yet to be discovered, many options are available to treat particular symptoms. For instance, medications called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or medicines that improve bowel motion can help control heartburn. Other treatments decrease the activity of the immune system. Due to the extreme variations between scleroderma cases, the treatments prescribed for patients also vary greatly.