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Scleroderma is a topic covered in the 5-Minute Clinical Consult.

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  • Scleroderma (systemic sclerosis [SSc]) is a chronic disease of unknown cause characterized by diffuse fibrosis of skin and visceral organs and vascular abnormalities.
  • Most manifestations have vascular features (e.g., Raynaud phenomenon), but frank vasculitis is rarely seen.
  • Can range from a mild disease, affecting the skin, to a systemic disease that can cause death in a few months
  • The disease is categorized into two major clinical variants (1).
    • Diffuse: distal and proximal extremity and truncal skin thickening
    • Limited
      • Restricted to the fingers, hands, and face
      • CREST syndrome (calcinosis, Raynaud phenomenon, esophageal dysmotility, sclerodactyly, telangiectasia)
  • System(s) affected: include, but not limited to skin; renal; cardiovascular; pulmonary; musculoskeletal; gastrointestinal

Geriatric Considerations
Uncommon >75 years of age

Pediatric Considerations
Rare in this age group

Pregnancy Considerations
  • Safe and healthy pregnancies are common and possible despite higher frequency of premature births.
  • High-risk management must be standard care to avoid complications, specifically renal crisis.
  • Diffuse scleroderma causes greater risk for developing serious cardiopulmonary and renal problems. Pregnancy should be delayed until disease stabilizes.


  • In the United States: 1 to 2/100,000/year
  • Predominant age
    • Young adult (16 to 40 years); middle-aged (40 to 75 years); peak onset 30 to 50 years
    • Symptoms usually appear in the 3rd to 5th decades.
  • Predominant sex: female > male (4:1)

In the United States: 1 to 25/100,000

Etiology and Pathophysiology

Pathophysiology involves both a vascular component and a fibrotic component. Both occur simultaneously. The inciting event is unknown, but there is an increase in certain cytokines after endothelial cell activation that are profibrotic (TGF-β and PDGF).

  • Unknown
  • Possible alterations in immune response
  • Possibly some association with exposure to quartz mining, quarrying, vinyl chloride, hydrocarbons, toxin exposure
  • Treatment with bleomycin has caused a scleroderma-like syndrome, as has exposure to rapeseed oil.

Familial clustering is rare, but has been seen.

Risk Factors


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Stephens, Mark B., et al., editors. "Scleroderma." 5-Minute Clinical Consult, 27th ed., Wolters Kluwer, 2019. Medicine Central, im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116548/all/Scleroderma.
Scleroderma. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, et al, eds. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. 27th ed. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116548/all/Scleroderma. Accessed April 18, 2019.
Scleroderma. (2019). In Stephens, M. B., Golding, J., Baldor, R. A., & Domino, F. J. (Eds.), 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Available from https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116548/all/Scleroderma
Scleroderma [Internet]. In: Stephens MB, Golding J, Baldor RA, Domino FJ, editors. 5-Minute Clinical Consult. Wolters Kluwer; 2019. [cited 2019 April 18]. Available from: https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116548/all/Scleroderma.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Scleroderma ID - 116548 ED - Stephens,Mark B, ED - Golding,Jeremy, ED - Baldor,Robert A, ED - Domino,Frank J, BT - 5-Minute Clinical Consult, Updating UR - https://im.unboundmedicine.com/medicine/view/5-Minute-Clinical-Consult/116548/all/Scleroderma PB - Wolters Kluwer ET - 27 DB - Medicine Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -