Your skin can reveal a lot about your overall health

Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease — a condition caused when your immune system attacks your body’s healthy tissue. Because scleroderma can affect your joints, bones, muscles and connective tissue, it is also considered a rheumatic condition.

Understanding scleroderma

There are two types of scleroderma — localized and systemic.

Localized scleroderma is a milder type. Localized scleroderma rarely spreads and rarely affects your internal organs.

Localized scleroderma is either morphea or linear in type. If you have morphea scleroderma, you may have waxy patches of skin that vary in size and shape. Linear scleroderma begins as a streak or line of hardened, waxy skin.

Systemic scleroderma affects your connective tissue and more parts of your body. Systemic scleroderma can lead to the hardening of internal organs (sclerosis).

Systemic scleroderma is characterized as either limited or diffuse. Limited scleroderma, sometimes referred to as CREST syndrome, affects the face, hands and feet. Limited scleroderma develops slowly. Diffuse scleroderma develops faster and causes more skin thickening. If you have diffuse scleroderma, you are at higher risk for developing sclerosis.

Symptoms and diagnosis

Diagnosing scleroderma

To diagnose scleroderma, your doctor will conduct a physical exam. In addition to looking for hardening of your skin, your doctor will check for symptoms including:

  •  Acid reflux

  •  Chronic cough

  •  Difficulty swallowing

  •  Dry mouth

  •  Fatigue

  •  Joint pain or stiffness

  •  Sensitivity to cold

  •  Shortness of breath

  •  Skin rashes

  •  Skin ulcers

  •  Swollen blood vessels

  •  Tightness in your fingers

  •  Unexplained weight loss

Your doctor also might order blood or imaging tests. In some cases, your doctor could take a skin sample.

Treatments and research

Scleroderma treatments

Most people with scleroderma will develop only mild symptoms. These can be managed with medications.

Medications to treat scleroderma include:

  •  Immunosuppressive drugs (to reduce the immune response)

  •  Calcium channel blockers (to relax blood vessels)

  •  Steroids (to reduce inflammation)

Physical therapy can also help improve your muscle strength and joint function.

Meet our team

Experts from several disciplines

Managing scleroderma requires a team approach. Our rheumatologists work with doctors across UW Health to treat the effects of severe scleroderma and other autoimmune diseases. 


Meeting you where you are

UW Health rheumatologists see patients at locations across Wisconsin

Adult Rheumatology Locations

Patient and support services

Extra support for you

Online resources