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What is scleroderma?

Media Release
27June 2013
What is scleroderma?

Arthritis New Zealand Acting Chief Executive Rob Mitchell today asked people to mark World Scleroderma Day this Saturday 29 June. This day was chosen to remember the life and work of artist Paul Klee, who died on 29 June 1940, and whose work was strongly influenced by systemic sclerosis, a form of scleroderma.

“Scleroderma is a rare chronic, often progressive, autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues,” Mr Mitchell said. “And it’s a form of arthritis.”

“Scleroderma affects the connective tissues of the body (tissues that hold together muscles, joints, blood vessels and internal organs). The connective tissues of people with scleroderma have too much of a protein called ‘collagen’. Collagen is important to give connective tissue its strength, but excess collagen causes hardening and tightening of the affected area.”

“Both sexes are affected by scleroderma, but it affects more women than men. Scleroderma affects around one in a thousand New Zealanders and can occur at any age but usually starts between the ages of 25–55 years. It is not hereditary and rarely occurs in more than one family member. There is no cure for scleroderma, but many treatments are available for specific symptoms.”

“For further information about this debilitating disease, speak with your GP. Or phone one of our Arthritis Educators on 0800 663 463,” he concluded.

There are more than 530,000 New Zealanders living with arthritis, which is New Zealand’s leading cause of disability. Arthritis New Zealand is a national organisation that raises awareness of the more than 140 forms of arthritis, advocates for those living with arthritis, funds research, and provides support through information and advice. Arthritis, it could surprise you.


About scleroderma:
• Usually starts between the ages of 25-55
• Women outnumber men about 4:1 and the average person is diagnosed in his or her 40’s
Symptoms –
• Raynaud’s phenomenon – the fingers or toes turn white, then blue in the cold and then red as blood flow returns
• Thickening or hardening of the skin on hands, arms and face
• Stiffness and pain in the muscles and/or joints
• Swelling of hands and feet, especially in the morning
• Thinning of the pads at the finger tips
• Small white chalky lumps under the skin
• Indigestion or heartburn
• Diarrhoea or constipation
• Shortness of breath or reduced ability to exercise
• Kidney problems and high blood pressure

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