What is Scleroderma?

Author: Shelley Ensz. Scleroderma is highly variable. See Types of Scleroderma. Read Disclaimer
Video Overview
Video Series

Overview of Autoimmune and Skin Diseases

Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune disease that often affects the skin. It is also a form of arthritis and a connective tissue disease.

Autoimmune Directory. There are over 80 autoimmune diseases, 100 types of arthritis, 200 connective tissue disorders, and 3,000 skin diseases. Many of these conditions have similar symptoms or blood work, and they often occur together. ISN.

Skin Disease Directory. Some of the 3,000 skin diseases share similar symptoms with scleroderma. Here we focus on the conditions that are more commonly confused with scleroderma or that occasionally overlap with it. ISN.

Video Overview of Scleroderma

What is Scleroderma Video
Video: What is Scleroderma?

Presented by Isabella Ensz
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audioScleroderma is a rare, chronic rheumatic disease. The combined forms of scleroderma, including localized, systemic, and related conditions, affect an estimated 300,000 Americans, primarily females who are 30 to 50 years old at onset. The overall occurrence is 1 per 1,000 (.1% of the 310 million U.S. population) and the ratio of women to men is about four to one.

For the subtype of systemic sclerosis, which is the most serious form of the disease, there are about 75,000 current cases in the United States.

About 20 to 24 new cases per million population are diagnosed each year in the U.S. Worldwide, there may be as many as 2.5 million persons with scleroderma.

Overview of Scleroderma. Mayo Clinic.

Scleroderma is both a rheumatic disease and a connective tissue disease. The term rheumatic disease refers to a group of conditions characterized by inflammation and/or pain in the muscles, joints, or fibrous tissue. A connective tissue disease is one that affects tissues such as skin, tendons, and cartilage. NIAMS.

Scleroderma is not classified as contagious, which means that you cannot get scleroderma by shaking hands, hugging, kissing, sexual contact, contact with blood or bodily fluids, sharing eating utensils, or by airborne contact from coughing or sneezing. And it is not cancerous.

Types of Scleroderma

Types of Scleroderma. There are two main types of scleroderma: Localized and Systemic. The systemic forms can affect any part of the body (skin, blood vessels, and internal organs.) The systemic forms are also referred to as "systemic sclerosis" plus other terms such as diffuse, limited, CREST, and overlap.

The localized forms are morphea and linear. They affect only the skin (and sometimes the underlying tissues) but do not affect the internal organs, or reduce one's life expectancy in any way. When any form of scleroderma (either localized or systemic) occurs in children, it is also called Childhood Scleroderma or Juvenile Scleroderma.

Two Main Types: Localized and Systemic
Juvenile Scleroderma
Localized (Morphea, Linear, En Coup)
Nodular Scleroderma
Systemic Sclerosis (Limited/CREST, Diffuse, Overlap)

Causes of Scleroderma

Causes of Scleroderma. The cause of scleroderma is unknown. Some cases of scleroderma have been linked to chemical exposures. Genetics, fetal cells, gluten sensitivity, and viruses might also be factors in the development of scleroderma, and it may be due to a combination of factors. ISN.


Diagnosis of Scleroderma is usually achieved through medical history and a thorough physical exam. Blood tests are performed to look for specific antibodies. A skin biopsy may be done, as well as organ specific tests to check for systemic involvement. ISN.

Antibodies in SSc
Difficult Diagnosis
Medical Tests
Prepare for Appointments
Scleroderma Symptoms
Scleroderma Experts


ISN Guide to Scleroderma Experts. Because scleroderma is such a rare disease, and is complicated and difficult to treat, experts are very few and far between. Use this, plus our compilation of other listings, to find the best expert for you! ISN.


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Systemic Scleroderma Symptoms. Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) can affect every part of the body, including the skin, blood vessels, and all of the internal organs. There are also dozens of associated conditions and related autoimmune diseases. ISN.

Autoimmune Diseases
Heart (Cardiac)
Kidney (Renal)
Lung (Pulmonary)
Photos of Symptoms
Similar Skin Diseases
Sjogren's Syndrome
Skeletal (Bones, Muscles)
Skin and Hair

Treatments and Clinical Trials

Scleroderma Treatments and Clinical Trials. At present, there are no proven treatments or cure for any forms of scleroderma. However, there are effective therapies for many of the symptoms. Most of the symptoms listed in this website are those of systemic scleroderma. ISN.

Video Series

Our Scleroderma Video Series quickly and clearly explains the various types of scleroderma, symptoms, and diagnosis. ISN.

Systemic Sclerosis


(1) audioAudio pronunciations for this page are from Mirriam-Webster Online Dictionary.

History of Scleroderma and School Report Resource. Ideas and information for doing a school report or presentation about the history of scleroderma. ISN.

What is Scleroderma? "Imagine for me if you would that in certain areas of your body the skin has begun to thicken and harden. Then on top of this, you have a painful sensitivity to cold, frequent heartburn, stiff joints and various other internal problems." Amy (Daughter of a Systemic Sclerosis patient).

Go to Types of Scleroderma

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Copyright 1998-2015, International Scleroderma Network. AKA Scleroderma from A to Z and SCLERO.ORG. All Rights Reserved.