Scleroderma is characterized by the toughening of the affected area, most commonly in the skin or in the organs which could lead to limitation of the organ’s function. This is quite rare as it only affects 14 out of every 1 million people worldwide. Scleroderma affects women more than it affects men and could develop somewhere between the ages of 30 to 50. It is also inherent in the Native American Choctaw tribe and in African-American women. Scleroderma is rarely found in children.
While cases of scleroderma that would only affect the skin would most likely not be fatal but could cripple the patient, the severe form of it which is called systemic scleroderma or is characterized by having scleroderma affect various parts of the body can be lethal and has been proven so in many cases. After the skin which is the most common case which would account for 95% to 100% of all cases, it is followed by gastro-intestinal involvement in scleroderma which would account for 70% to 90%
How Is The Digestive System Involved In Scleroderma?
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease. Being that, it mainly interferes with the immune system and having them attack the body instead of protecting it. Scleroderma can affect all organs of the digestive system, either just one organ or the entire system at the same time. It start with the esophagus; if scleroderma is present in the esophagus, then peristalsis is more difficult as the food track is tighter making it less able to push food down.
Gastro-intestinal involvement in scleroderma usually starts off with the esophagus and gradually makes its way down lower into the large intestine. If it makes its way past the stomach, then the patient will start having problems with digesting food. This is because the stomach now lacks blood vessels because it has been limited by scleroderma. Worst case scenario of this is that everything from the esophagus to the rectum would be affected. Unfortunately, this is very possible.
How Is This Treated?
As of today, there is no known cause for scleroderma and because of that, diagnosis is mainly based on symptoms. Doctors can start off by giving a patient medication to help ease him or her of the symptoms. These medications are given in attempt to lessen acid production but if that does not do anything, then procedures that are specific to the affected area are done to relieve a patient of discomforting symptoms.
Medications however are only given to relieve a patient from the effects brought about by scleroderma and not to entirely remove scleroderma from a patient. The cause of scleroderma is unknown and with that, there is no known medicine. Treatment for scleroderma is patient-specific even when it comes to gastro-intestinal involvement. This however can be managed effectively with the help of medical procedures.
How Is This Diagnosed?
If medications do not work or if a patient would develop side effects, then that is where one should have medical procedures. If the esophagus is affected, some medical procedures that can help would be endoscopy, barium swallow and esophageal manometry.
If the stomach is affected, then the patient could also have barium swallow which is similar the one referring to esophageal involvement and a gastric emptying study of which a person eats small amounts of material followed by taking x-rays of their stomach.