June is National Scleroderma
Awareness Month. Scleroderma is a group of diseases that result in the abnormal
growth of connective tissue. Connective tissue is tissue that supports your
skin and internal organs, like your kidneys, lungs and heart. Scleroderma is a
chronic condition meaning that it lasts for a long time and can affect many
aspects of your life.
If you have scleroderma, your body
makes too much of a connective tissue protein called collagen. When too much
collagen builds up in your body, it causes your skin and connective tissues to
get hard or thick. Scleroderma can lead to pain and swelling in your muscles
and joints. There are two main kinds of scleroderma: localized and systemic.
Both can be mild to severe, with periods of remission (wellness) and flares
Localized scleroderma only affects
certain parts of your body, like your skin, skin tissues and sometimes muscles.
Localized scleroderma doesn’t harm major organs and often gets better or goes
away over time without treatment. But sometimes it can be severe and cause
lasting skin changes.
Systemic scleroderma can affect the
whole body, including your skin, tissues, blood vessels and major organs, like
your heart, lungs and kidneys.
If you have scleroderma and you’re
thinking about getting pregnant, you
should schedule a preconception checkup with
your health care provider. If you have localized scleroderma, it may not affect
your pregnancy at all. But systemic scleroderma can cause problems with your
heart, lungs or kidneys. These complications are most likely to appear during
the first three years of scleroderma symptoms, and can cause health
difficulties for you and your baby during pregnancy. For this reason, it’s best
not to get pregnant during the first three years of symptoms.
If you have systemic scleroderma,
you may be more likely than other pregnant women to have:
Right now, there is no specific
treatment that stops the body from making too much collagen. However, doctors
use several types of medication to control the symptoms. But not all of these
are safe to use during pregnancy. Some can cause birth defects if a woman takes
them while she is pregnant. That is why it is so important to discuss your
condition with your doctor before pregnancy.
During pregnancy a woman with
scleroderma may be treated by multiple doctors, including a rheumatologist as
well as a high-risk obstetrician.
Depending on her individual symptoms, a pregnant woman may need to see a few
other providers to treat specific complications. Fortunately though, with
today’s medical care, many women with scleroderma can have successful