It is not contagious, infectious or cancerous. Scleroderma refers to two conditions — systemic sclerosis arthritis scleroderma and systemic sclerosis. This condition mainly affects the skin, but also can affect tissues beneath the skin including fat, connective tissue, muscle and bone.
Localized scleroderma is more common in children. In adults, it affects women more often than men. It can appear between the ages of 20 and 50. It is characterized by one or more hard, oval-shaped, whitish or darkened patches of skin.
This condition can affect many parts of the body, such as the skin, blood vessels, digestive system, heart, lungs, kidneys, muscles and joints. Thirty percent of people with scleroderma have this type. Systemic sclerosis may be classified as either limited or diffuse. This kind affects the skin on the face, fingers and hands, and lower arms and legs. For many people, the first symptoms of systemic sclerosis are Raynaud’s phenomenon and puffy fingers, which can begin several years before other symptoms. If internal organs are involved, it tends to be mild.
However, some people experience severe Raynaud’s phenomenon, gastrointestinal problems or serious effects on the lungs. Some patients with limited scleroderma also have CREST syndrome. CREST is an acronym using the first letter of five conditions: calcinosis, Raynaud’s phenomenon, esophageal dysmotility, sclerodactyly and telangiectasia. It may affect any part of the body, especially the hands, arms, thighs, chest, abdomen and face.
Itching, decreased flexibility and pain can also occur. Diffuse scleroderma may affect the blood vessels, heart, joints, muscles, esophagus, intestines and lungs. The severity of internal organ involvement varies. Kidney problems may lead to high blood pressure and, if untreated, kidney failure. Lung damage is the leading cause of death with this condition.