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The name scleroderma is derived from the Greek word skleros, which means hard, and derma, which means skin. The most characteristic feature of scleroderma is the build-up of tough scar-like fibrous tissue in the skin. The disease may affect the skin alone (localized scleroderma) or be a systemic disease that involves internal organs.

The disease is classified as localized scleroderma, limited scleroderma and diffuse scleroderma. Localized scleroderma affects the skin and does not involve internal organs; other names for this condition include morphea and linear scleroderma. Systemic sclerosis is sometimes used to refer to the limited and diffuse forms of the disease.

The degree of skin involvement separates limited from diffuse scleroderma. People with limited scleroderma have skin thickening of their limbs but skin on their trunk and above the elbows and knees is spared. Those with diffuse disease have skin involvement of their proximal arms and legs and their trunk.

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How common is scleroderma?
What are the warning signs of scleroderma?
What causes scleroderma?

At this time there is no cure for scleroderma. Therefore treatment is designed to control the symptoms. Establishing the correct diagnosis is important because something can be done to manage most forms of arthritis and most therapies work best when started early in the disease.

Diagnosis may be difficult as there is no specific test that confirms scleroderma is present. Your doctor will probably perform a physical examination and order other tests such as x-rays and blood tests.

If skin changes are already present the diagnosis may be simple and routine. In other cases where scleroderma is suspected, your doctor may wish to do a skin biopsy, which involves removing a small piece of skin to be analyzed in a laboratory. Your doctor may feel your skin, checking for thickened and hardened areas, and may also press tendons and joints to detect crackling or grating sensations, which can indicate changes beneath the skin. A major clue to diagnosing scleroderma is the symmetrical (happening in the same spot on both sides of the body) hardening and thickening of the skin in areas on the fingers and toes. By looking at your fingernails underneath a microscope, your doctor may also be able to detect changes in your blood vessels that are characteristic of scleroderma and mixed connective tissue disease.

There are a wide variety of other tests possible, which may be done based on the organs that are involved. For example, if you're having difficulty swallowing your doctor may order a special X-ray of the esophagus.

If you are diagnosed as having scleroderma, the goal of your treatment plan will be to bring the symptoms and disease under control. Treatment plans are based on the type and severity of symptoms, and are individualized to meet each person's needs. Your active involvement in developing your prescribed treatment plan is essential.

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Arthritis medications are designed to control a disease, slow its progression, and to help manage pain. There is a wide range of options – with new ones coming on the horizon – so understanding all possible treatments is not easy. 

These medications can be very complex, so you are encouraged to ask for in-depth explanations from your health care team – including pharmacists, who are an excellent source of information. 

To explore this area of treatment, The Arthritis Society has developed a comprehensive expert guide that delivers detailed information on medications used to treat arthritis.

Explore the Arthritis Medications A Reference Guide

The optimal treatment is what is best in each individual case – so speak with your doctor and/or pharmacist about what kind of medications are most appropriate for you.

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