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Healthcare: Rheumatology Services

Systematic Sclerosis (Scleroderma) and Raynaud’s Phenomenon

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Scleroderma

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Scleroderma is a rare disease in which a person's immune system begins to destroy normal, healthy tissues. (This is called an autoimmune disease.) As a result, connective tissue of the skin, lungs, and internal organs—especially the esophagus, kidneys, and digestive tract—is replaced with scar tissue. This change causes the tissues to become stiff and the muscles to not work as well.
In the esophagus, this makes it:

  • Easier for stomach juice to get into the esophagus. This happens because the valve between the esophagus and stomach (lower esophageal sphincter) does not close tightly.
  • Harder to move stomach juices out of the esophagus. This happens because the squeezing motion of the esophagus (peristalsis) does not work as well as it should.
     
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Raynaud’s Phenomenon

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Raynaud's phenomenon is a condition in which some areas of the body, usually the fingers or toes, have an exaggerated response to cold temperature or emotional stress. During an attack of Raynaud's, the blood vessels in the affected areas tighten, severely limiting the flow of blood to the skin.

Normally the body narrows (constricts) these blood vessels when the skin gets cold. This helps conserve body heat. Stress or exposure to cold temperatures may trigger an exaggeration of this normal body function. The fingers and hands (or, more rarely, the feet, nose, or ears) may turn pale, white, and later blue and feel cold to the touch. Sometimes fingers or toes feel numb and tingly, as if they have "fallen asleep," or they may become painful and swollen.

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