Scleroderma is an autoimmune rheumatic disease affecting the skin and other organs of the body, meaning that the body’s immune system is acting abnormally. The main finding in scleroderma is thickening and tightening of the skin and inflammation and scarring of many body parts, leading to problems in the lungs, kidneys, heart, intestinal system and other areas. There is still no cure for scleroderma but effective treatments for some forms of the disease are available.
Scleroderma is relatively rare. About 75,000 to 100,000 people in the U.S. have this disease; most are women between the ages of 30 and 50. Twins and family members of those with scleroderma or other autoimmune connective tissue diseases, such as lupus, may have a slightly higher risk of getting scleroderma. Children can also develop scleroderma, but the disease is different in children than in adults.
Although the underlying cause is unknown, promising research is shedding light on the relationship between the immune system and scleroderma. A great deal of research is also underway to find better treatments for scleroderma and, hopefully, someday a cure.