Scleroderma is a rare disease characterized by thickening and tightening of various tissues. It usually affects the skin, and occasionally, multiple internal organs such as the lungs, heart, digestive tract and kidneys. Overproduction of collagen, the constituent of the connective tissues, is responsible for this health disorder. Although the exact cause of scleroderma is unknown, abnormal immune response is found to be responsible for stimulating excess collagen synthesis.
Currently treatment for scleroderma involves alleviating the symptoms of the ailment and preventing damage to the organs affected by scleroderma. Some therapies target the immune system, suppressing the immune response that triggers overproduction of collagen. With variation in symptoms of scleroderma, the exact treatment strategies vary from person to person.
Scleroderma Treatment Options
Scleroderma is associated with inflammations of the joints, muscles and linings of the heart and lungs. Anti-inflammatory drugs can effectively reduce the inflammatory symptoms of scleroderma.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids are used for treating inflammation. However, inflammation of the skin and tissues injured by scleroderma do not respond to NSAIDs and corticosteroids.
Several immunosuppressant drugs are used in scleroderma treatment. By suppressing the activities of the chemical messengers called cytokines produced by the immune system that trigger abnormal production of collagen, they help to keep the autoimmune disease under control. According to studies, immunosuppressants that are beneficial for scleroderma patients are mycophenolate mofetil, cyclophosphamide and antithymocyte globulin.
When scleroderma affects the blood vessels, the condition is treated with vasodilators. Vasodilators, commonly known as blood pressure medications, help to improve blood flow that is weakened by thickening of the medium and small arteries. Calcium channel blockers are most effective in treating the vascular diseases.
They are especially effective in improving blood flow to the heart and skin. Other vasodilators that are often used for treatment include prostacyclin, bosentan and nitric oxide. In addition to improving blood flow, these drugs also inhibit tissue fibrosis triggered by collagen overproduction.
Drugs that impair collagen synthesis are used for treating scleroderma. Anti-fibrotic drugs include D-penicillamine, para-aminobenzoic acid, dimethyl sulfoxide and colchicine.
These drugs work by preventing fibroblasts from synthesizing collagen and suppressing cytokines that stimulate fibroblasts.
Vitamin E Supplement
By countering oxidative stress, vitamin E can protect scleroderma patients from injuries caused by elevated levels of free radicals. Researchers believe that the antioxidant vitamin is capable of inhibiting the autoimmune process involved in scleroderma.
Moreover, vitamin E is believed to possess anti-fibrotic property that may benefit scleroderma patients. About 800 to 1200 IU of vitamin E can be taken orally by scleroderma patients. In addition, vitamin E can be applied topically to the affected areas of the skin.
Vitamin D Supplement
By regulating the immune system, vitamin D can inhibit abnormal fibroblast growth that leads to collagen overproduction. However, as high doses of vitamin D2 or D3 are used for the treatment, supplementation with vitamin D should be done under medical supervision for a limited period.
Evening Primrose Oil
Gamma linolenic acid in evening primrose oil is beneficial for scleroderma patients. This anti-inflammatory fatty acid helps to suppress activities of inflammatory prostaglandins that trigger inflammatory symptoms of scleroderma.
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