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Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease characterized by the hardening of the skin in roughly symmetrical patterns. However, it does have a fatal variant, systemic sclerosis, which results in hardening of the other organs of the body. Scleroderma is inconvenient and difficult to treat, but usually is not fatal. However, systemic sclerosis is often fatal, although it is far rarer. Scleroderma affects about 1/10th of 1% of the population at any given time. However, it is more common in women, African-Americans, and certain Native American groups, such as the Choctaw, and usually starts between the ages of 30 and 50, although it is possible in any age group.
Scleroderma can have inconvenient and dangerous side effects related to the autoimmune condition, such as high blood pressure, damage to blood vessels, shortness of breath and other breathing problems, difficulty swallowing, acid reflux, muscle weakness and joint pain.
Scleroderma cannot be cured and treatment is highly dependent on the particular symptoms being suffered by the patient. Drugs that boost blood flow, particularly to the fingers, can be very helpful. Immunosuppressing drugs can also help lessen symptoms, although they can lead to secondary infections.