Putting the two Greek words sclero (meaning hard) and derma (meaning skin) together paints a picture of the condition known as scleroderma. In this condition, the skin becomes thicker and harder.
Scleroderma belongs to the same family of autoimmune diseases as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. It shares many features with these illnesses, including the fact that it often appears in adult women. Women are 3 to 5 times more likely to develop this condition than men.
Another thing it has in common with these diseases is that scleroderma can cause a wide range of different symptoms and complications. For some people, it's a lifelong nuisance; for others, it's a disease that quickly worsens and may lead to death. This disease is not contagious, and it is not inherited.
About 300,000 Americans live with scleroderma. It can affect a specific area of the body, usually the skin (called localized scleroderma). It may also affect several areas of the body, including internal organs (called systemic or generalized scleroderma).
Two forms of localized scleroderma are morphea and linear sclerodoma. They usually affect only the skin, but may also affect muscles and bones.
Generalized or systemic scleroderma also has two forms: limited (or CREST syndrome) sclerodoma and diffuse sclerodoma.
Most people with scleroderma develop the condition between the ages of 30 and 50 years, although it may occur in children and seniors.
The exact cause of scleroderma is unknown. Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune disease, a disease in which the immune system attacks its own healthy cells, causing damage.
Normally, the immune system helps the body deal with infection and injury. People with scleroderma produce too much collagen, a protein that makes up connective tissue in tendons and ligaments. Depending on the type of scleroderma a person has, the extra collagen is deposited in either the skin or in other organs in the body, or both, which causes hardening of the tissues.