What is scleroderma
An introduction to this challenging condition
Most people living with Raynaud's have the primary form of the condition with symptoms of cold hands/ feet, blue and white or purple fingers, where there is no link to any other disease, including scleroderma.
Secondary Raynaud's can be a sign of scleroderma however, as scleroderma is a common cause of the secondary form of Raynaud's. Nearly everyone with scleroderma experiences Raynaud's symptoms at some point, usually at the onset of their condition.
As Raynaud's is often the first symptom of scleroderma to be noticed, it is very important to get tested and establish whether you have the primary or secondary form of Raynaud's. Your doctor will be able to organise these tests.
Although we talk about people with scleroderma having 'Raynaud's symptoms', there are important differences in the actual disease processes of the two conditions.
Unlike in primary Raynaud's phenomenon, where the blood vessels narrow then return to normal size, the small blood vessels in the skin in scleroderma gradually change in size, becoming increasingly smaller and sometimes disappearing over time.
In people with scleroderma, the blood vessels lose the ability to return to their normal size in-between attacks, and this reduces the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the skin.
If the skin does not receive enough nutrients, it can become dry and cracked, and small ulcers can form on the tips of the fingers (or thumbs). In severe cases, gangrene can develop. The main 3 scleroderma symptoms to look out for are swollen fingers, Raynaud's and reflux/ heartburn. Scleroderma can be fatal so an early diagnosis is important to help prevent progression of the condition.
In people with scleroderma, problems with the blood vessels can spread into other parts of the body and internal organs. This never happens in primary Raynaud's. So although the problem with fingers and toes appears the same initially, the ways the two conditions develop are very different.
If you have the three symptoms of scleroderma; swollen fingers, Raynaud's and reflux/ heartburn it is important that you visit your GP as soon as possible as scleroderma can be fatal.