Limited scleroderma is a form of autoimmune condition distinguished by thickening and tightening of the skin in localized areas of the body like the hands and face. One form of this condition is CREST syndrome, known after an acronym derived from the key diagnostic signs. The severity of limited scleroderma can vary. Some patients may be relatively undisturbed by it, while others can experience chronic health problems. Treatment is focused on addressing the symptoms, as the condition cannot be cured.
In patients with limited scleroderma, calcium deposits develop in the connective tissue around the face, hands, arms, or legs, a phenomenon known as calcinosis. The patient also experiences Raynaud's phenomenon, where circulation to the extremities is impaired in cold conditions, and esophageal dysfunction, disruption of swallowing caused by damage to the muscles in the esophagus.
Sclerodactyly, thickening of the skin on the fingers caused by collagen deposition, is another sign of limited scleroderma, as is telangiectasias, a change to the skin associated with swelling blood vessels where small red marks develop around affected areas like the hands and face. The blood vessels involved are very small, and the size of the spots can vary. Together, calcinosis, Raynaud's phenomenon, esophageal dysfunction, sclerodactyly, and telangiectasias make up the CREST acronym.
Some people with limited scleroderma experience mild symptoms, including some skin discomfort, but are otherwise in relatively good health. Others may experience complications as a result of their thickening and hardening skin, including decreased sensitivity to touch and difficulty performing tasks because of thickening and stiffening. People may also be subject to complications caused by internal physical changes. Although these changes are less severe in limited scleroderma than in other forms of scleroderma, they can still disrupt organ function and cause other problems for the patient.
The reasons behind the development of scleroderma are poorly understood. It is believed to be a reaction of the immune system, where the body starts attacking itself because it gets confused about how to identify harmful proteins and other compounds. People with a family history of the disease can be at increased risk, and in other cases, it develops spontaneously, with no direct or obvious cause. Treatment of scleroderma varies depending on the symptoms and can include immunosuppressive drugs, soothing creams for the skin, and dietary modifications. Patients sometimes find success with complementary medicine, supplementing traditional medical treatments with options like acupuncture, massage, and herbal supplements prescribed by an herbalist.