What To Expect From A Diagnosis Of Scleroderma In Your Senior Loved One
Do you know what to expect from a diagnosis of scleroderma in your senior loved one? It’s a rare disease with which most people are unfamiliar. Pegasus caregivers in Newhall and elsewhere offer these facts and tips to assist you.
The immune system protects the body against infection and disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks the body instead. Scleroderma is one of the autoimmune diseases.
Scleroderma results when the immune system causes excess production of collagen. Collagen is one of the components of connective tissue. Connective tissue is found throughout the body.
The excessive amounts of collagen turn the connective tissue hard and inflexible. Sclero means hardening, and derma refers to skin. Hardened skin is usually the first noticeable evidence of scleroderma.
Scleroderma Affects The Whole Body
The hardening, or sclerosis, can occur anywhere in the body. Scleroderma is classified according to where it occurs, appearance, and severity. The classifications include:
- Localized – individuals experience hardened patches of skin in a few locations. Although it can sometimes affect bones, joints, or muscles, localized scleroderma does not spread to the internal organs.
- Morphea – the patches are discolored and appear waxy. They may change in size or come and go.
- Linear – bands or lines of hardened skin on arms, legs, neck, or forehead. The hardening may go below the surface of the skin and can affect joint movement.
- Systemic – more severe scleroderma. It affects the whole body, including internal organs and blood vessels, in addition to the muscles, joints, and skin. The tissues in the affected areas harden, impairing the body’s ability to function.
- Limited – usually less serious. It’s also known as CREST syndrome. It occurs over time and is associated with pulmonary hypertension, which can be life-threatening.
- Diffuse cutaneous – usually affects the internal organs and gastrointestinal system. It often develops rapidly.
The severity of scleroderma varies from moderate to total disability. It is not contagious, infectious, or malignant.
Medical science has not yet determined exactly what triggers the production of excessive collagen. An immune system gone awry is the primary culprit. Genetics and environmental factors such as viruses, drugs, medications, or toxic chemicals may play a part.
Symptoms Of Scleroderma
Your loved one may have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Skin – the hardened areas of the skin are stiff and no longer flexible, restricting movement.
- Raynaud’s disease – although Raynaud’s can occur in individuals who don’t have scleroderma, it is common in those with systemic scleroderma. Raynaud’s causes the blood vessels in fingers and toes to contract when cold or if the person is distressed. The fingers may turn blue, or become numb or painful, and may become ulcerated.
- Digestive system – symptoms can include heartburn, difficulty swallowing, bloating, cramps, and constipation or diarrhea. Food may not be adequately digested, potentially leading to malnourishment.
- Internal organs – the heart, lungs, and kidneys can be too damaged to function. The loss of function can be life-threatening.
Scleroderma is a chronic disease that isn’t always progressive, but it does require treatment.
Treatment For Scleroderma
There is no cure for scleroderma. There are a variety of treatments for the symptoms. Your senior’s physician may prescribe steroids to reduce swelling and pain.
Blood pressure medication is helpful for some people. Others need drugs that suppress the immune system. Antibiotics and other medications help relieve symptoms in the digestive tract.
It’s essential to prevent infections in your senior loved one with scleroderma. Raynaud’s disease leaves them especially vulnerable to infection. Your senior may also need prescription-strength pain medication.
Physical or occupational therapy helps with pain, mobility, and strength. Pegasus therapists provide treatment in the privacy of your home. The goal of all therapy is to improve or maintain independence.
You can also help your loved one make lifestyle changes that reduce symptoms. These include:
- Avoiding getting cold: protecting your loved one’s hands from cold at all times is essential. They must also dress warmly if they go outside in cold weather.
- Changing eating habits: eliminating foods that cause heartburn and digestive problems from the diet helps. Eating several small meals throughout the day rather than a few large meals improves digestion and absorption of nutrients.
- Exercising: staying active improves circulation and flexibility. A Pegasus therapist can design range-of-motion exercises if necessary.
- Protecting the skin: using lotions, whether prescribed or over-the-counter, and sunscreen minimize irritation. Your loved one should take baths or showers in tepid, rather than hot, water. They need to avoid strong soaps and household cleaners.
- Smoking cessation: smoking negatively affects the blood vessels and the lungs. Encourage your loved one to stop if they smoke.
Scleroderma not only impairs an individual’s physical health, it can also distort their appearance. As a result, it often affects your loved one’s mental and emotional health. Psychological counseling may be necessary.
Pegasus is a licensed Home Care Organization and a Joint Commission Accredited Home Health Care organization. Our caregivers in Newhall and our other locations work one-on-one with individuals to improve their safety and comfort. Our care is tailored to help them meet their challenges by providing the support they need.