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Scleroderma (Systemic Sclerosis): How It Affects The Body

Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is a chronic connective tissue disease. It is generally classified as an autoimmune disease. The symptoms of scleroderma vary greatly from person-to-person, and not all individuals with the disease develop all complications. Symptoms of scleroderma may be visible, as is the case when the skin is affected, or the symptoms may be invisible, as when internal organ systems are affected.

If you have been diagnosed with a localized form of scleroderma, such as linear scleroderma or morphea, click here for more information.

Instructions: Select a body component below to see how scleroderma can affect a person's body:


Select a body component:
(click a component for more info)

  • Vascular
    • Vascular System

      The vascular system is made up of the body's veins and arteries. This system can be affected by scleroderma when the vessels become inflamed, stretched and tightened. More info»

  • Oral
    • Oral

      It is common for patients to be affected by conditions including microstomia (small mouth), xerostomia (dry mouth), jaw pain and gum disease. Some scleroderma patients will develop Sjogren Syndrome, which can affect their saliva glands. More info»

  • Hands
    • Hands

      Hand involvement in scleroderma includes the fingers, knuckles and wrists. Sclerodactyly, joint contractures, inflammation, Raynaud Phenomenon, calcinoisis and digital ulcers are examples of manifestations seen in hand involvement. Patients may experience functional loss or limited range of motions. More info»

  • Musculoskeletal
    • Musculoskeletal System

      Scleroderma can cause pain and inflammation in the muscles, joints and tendons of a patient. More info»

  • Heart and Lungs
    • Heart and Lungs

      Patients can experience scarring in their lungs, which is called pulmonary fibrosis. For some, scleroderma can also lead to Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH), which is high blood pressure in the blood vessels of the lungs. More info»

  • Kidney
    • Kidneys/Renal System

      Renal crisis, a highly dangerous complication of systemic scleroderma, can occur quite quickly. The most important warning sign is a sudden rise in blood pressure. More info»

  • Brain
    • Brain

      Psychological issues, which include depression and anxiety, have been found to be more common in patients suffering from a chronic illness. More info»

  • Gastro
    • Gastrointestinal

      The digestive system is the most commonly affected organ system other than the skin. It is estimated that 75%-90% of scleroderma patients deal with issues related to their GI tract. More info»

  • Eyes
    • Eyes

      Some patients develop Sjogren Syndrome secondary to their scleroderma, which can affect the tear glands. More info»

  • Skin
    • Skin

      Hardening and thickening of the skin give scleroderma its name. Patients may also experience ulcers, calcinosis, telangiectasia and other skin disorders. More info»

  • Show All

Want to learn more about scleroderma? Click here for a list of videos that were recorded at our national conference!

© 2013 Scleroderma Foundation | Body artwork by Gina Millard. User interface by Cathexis Partners. This tool may not be reproduced or recreated without written permission.