What is the course of progression for scleroderma?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine

The course of progression depends on the type of scleroderma a person has. With localized scleroderma, usually only the skin is affected, but sometimes, muscles can be, too. Typically, people with localized scleroderma present with Raynaud’s phenomenon first, and weeks or even years later, they develop other symptoms that lead to the diagnosis of scleroderma. You don’t have to worry about systemic scleroderma if you have localized scleroderma, though, since it does not progress into the more severe, systemic scleroderma.


A person with systemic scleroderma, on the other hand, experiences skin changes as well as damage to blood vessels and internal organs. You may develop Raynaud’s phenomenon before any other symptoms, just like with localized scleroderma. In addition, skin changes as well as circulation, GI, lunch and kidney problems, may occur and suddenly and progressively worsen over the course of a year or two. After that, the skin changes tend to stabilize and can even completely resolve themselves, but your internal organs (especially your heart, lungs, and kidneys), continue to suffer.


But, with both types, there may be periods of time when the symptoms improve.


Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
Scleroderma may present first as numbness or color change in the fingers and toes. This is known as Raynaud's Phenomenon, and is tied to restriction of blood flow. Further progression of scleroderma can lead to gastroesophageal reflux disease. Further complications can arise as restricted blood flow can impact the lungs, kidneys, and other organs.

Scleroderma has a highly unpredictable prognosis. On average, two-thirds of those diagnosed with the disorder can expect to live at least another 10 years. Some cases may worsen very quickly and may become life-threatening or fatal. Other cases will only cause localized skin changes for years before the disease progresses to the internal organs. Because scleroderma is so unpredictable, it's important to talk with your doctor about the best treatment for you.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.