Understanding Scleroderma and Raynaud's

Scleroderma is a fairly common skin condition that affects the blood vessels, immune system and connective tissue. In severe cases, it can affect mobility and limb growth.

The name is derived from the Greek meaning "hard skin". The skin, usually on the hands and feet, becomes stiff, tight and shiny as a result of swelling and thickening connective tissue.


There are several forms of scleroderma, including "morphea" scleroderma. This type, which affects mostly children, is characterized by patches of inflamed skin.

With "linear scleroderma", tissue below the skin is affected. If muscle and bone are afflicted, mobility and limb growth problems develop.

The more severe forms of scleroderma — known as systemic sclerosis — are fatal if not diagnosed and treated early. Fibrosis affecting the lungs, heart, bowel and kidneys is the main cause of death. Ninety percent of people with scleroderma also have Raynaud's.

Raynaud's: Prevalent in Women

Raynaud's can affect any age group but appears to be more prevalent in women. A Raynaud's attack is often triggered by exposure to the cold or by touching cold objects. Blood flow to the hands and feet, in particular, becomes temporarily interrupted as the supply arteries there spasmodically contract. Fingers and toes take on a white appearance before turning blue and eventually bright red. Sufferers can feel numb and tingling sensations and some experience a great deal of pain.

Two forms of the condition exist: the milder primary Raynaud's occurs spontaneously and can be genetically inherited. Secondary Raynaud's — although less common — can lead to more severe consequences such as ulceration, gangrene and even amputation. With this form there is also an association with an underlying disease such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or scleroderma.

The condition afflicts people in different ways: In some people, it affects the hands and can make it difficult to stretch the fingers. In others, it covers the skin on the body, face and arms.


Scleroderma vs. Raynaud's

Full treatment for scleroderma remains elusive, but ACE inhibitors, commonly used with heart patients, have been successful in treating people with both scleroderma and kidney problems, a combination that ten years ago was considered lethal. For some patients, treatment consists of the immunosuppressant azothioprin.

Scleroderma: Key Facts

  • A chronic autoimmune disease affecting the connective tissue.
  • Symptoms affect the skin and can affect internal organs (lungs, heart, kidneys).
  • The disease ranges from mild to life threatening.
  • It can cause fatigue, weight loss, dry mouth and eyes.
  • Swallowing can become problematic
  • Affected joints and bones impact on mobility.
  • It is not contagious, cancerous or malignant.

Raynaud's: Key Facts

  • A condition that interrupts blood supply to the extremities.
  • Symptoms affect fingers, toes, ears and nose.
  • Secondary Raynaud's is associated with scleroderma.
  • It can be triggered by touching cold objects,
  • Anxiety, stress and smoking can lead to the onset.
  • Women are affected nine times more often than men
  • It can be hereditary.