The Steffens Foundation seeks to support and promote research toward the treatment and cure of Scleroderma and Degos Disease. Of equal importance is our mission to promote awareness and understanding of these disorders, especially among healthcare professionals. Familiarity with the clinical presentation of these illnesses by frontline practitioners improves the likelihood of early recognition and diagnosis, as well as timely access to the specialized intervention necessary with rare and ultra rare diseases.
The purpose of this page is to enhance understanding of Scleroderma and Degos Disease for emerging and practicing healthcare professionals. Some of the content may have originally been intended for the support of individuals with these illnesses. Some of the other resources available on this page have a twofold purpose; educating those with the conditions, as well as educating their loved ones, as well as healthcare providers who are interested in the subject matter.
It is our goal to provide excellent educational content for all individuals desiring to learn about Scleroderma, Degos Disease, and related illnesses. We hope you find the content on this page helpful in your pursuit of this goal.
Scleroderma is a rare disease that leads to fibrosis or hardening of the skin and connective tissue. In localized cases of scleroderma, the condition is confined to the skin and is generally limited to a small area. In contrast, systemic sclerosis is characterized by three features:
The disease varies from person to person in terms of extent, its patterns of skin and organ involvement, and the rate of progression. In some individuals, symptoms may be so subtle as to elude diagnosis for decades. In others, the symptoms may be readily apparent within weeks of onset.
In raising awareness about scleroderma, the foundation aims to speed diagnosis so patients can begin treatment sooner.
Skin manifestations most commonly first affect the fingers, toes, and face with puffiness and then skin tightness. In those with "limited" scleroderma, skin changes generally remain confined to the hands and forearms, lower legs, and face. The progression is slow and skin changes may be minimal and easily missed. In "diffuse" scleroderma, skin changes usually appear more abruptly and progress much more rapidly, often with early involvement of the skin of the trunk, upper arms, and thighs. Tight skin may cause loss of joint motion, particularly at the hands and may be associated with intense itching and widespread joint and tendon discomfort. The fibrosis present in the skin may also affect internal organs, notably the lung and all portions of the gastrointestinal tract, most commonly the esophagus. Shortness of breath, heartburn, and difficulty with swallowing may each be presenting symptoms of the disease. Less commonly, fibrosis may involve the heart.
Vascular features of the disease are most commonly seen in the fingers or toes (Raynaud's phenomenon – reversible cold-induced blanching or cyanosis of the fingers or toes), but similar blood vessel changes can occur in the kidney and lung. In the kidney, this can result in sudden, severe, but reversible hypertension. In the lung, the blood vessel changes can increase resistance to blood flow and force the right side of the heart to pump with greater pressure (pulmonary hypertension).
The diagnosis of scleroderma is often possible simply on the basis of history and examination. Blood tests help in categorizing the disease. The history and examination tell us much about the extent and pace of the disease, the impact of the disease on daily activities, and help us determine disease prognosis.
Treatment plans must be individualized, though Raynaud's phenomenon and esophageal symptoms afflict at some time and to greater or lesser extent most individuals with this disorder, whether they have limited or diffuse disease. The diagnosis of scleroderma should generate neither fear nor panic, but is certainly a call for action in determining the nature and extent of the disease. Some individuals may require no drug therapy. Many features of the disease have highly effective treatments. Some disease manifestations may spontaneously subside over time. However, there are aspects of the disease which are still poorly understood and, as a consequence, less satisfactorily addressed.
Steffens Scleroderma Foundation
P.O. Box 38037
Albany, NY 12203