LCHM Summer 2017 - 13

L C M E D S O C .O R G

BY BARBARA WOOD

une is National Scleroderma grass in her yard and treated the heartburn
Month. I know, every month has with over-the-counter antacids.
its exhaustive lists of the diseases of
the month. If you don't recognize
Scleroderma is a chronic disease that
the name or know someone who has it, you causes the skin to become thick and hard.
don't really pay attention. Scleroderma? It's There's a buildup of scar tissue and damage
not one of the "trendy" diseases. How do you to blood vessels, internal organs and the
even say it? Most people can't pronounce digestive tract. Although scientists don't
it, let alone spell it. But if you suffer from know exactly what causes scleroderma,
it, it's more than the disease of the month. it is called both a rheumatic disease and
It's a distressing decline in your ability to a connective tissue disease, and it is also
perform the most basic of tasks such as believed to be an autoimmune disease, a
buttoning your jeans, going to the dentist triple threat.
or even eating.
The effects of scleroderma vary widely and
I was introduced to this nasty disease can be minor to life threatening, depending
through my friend Jean Romano. We met on which part of the body is affected. There
20 years ago working at the same print shop. are two main classifications of scleroderma:
She was 35 years old when she started expe- localized scleroderma and systemic scleroriencing unusual bouts of heartburn; then sis. Localized scleroderma affects mainly the
the tip of her left ring finger turned cold skin of the hands, arms and face, although
and white. That was the beginning, but she it can spread to the muscles, joints and
didn't know. She popped Tums like candy bones. It does not affect internal organs.
and went to the doctor for her heartburn. Systemic scleroderma is the most serious
At this point it was more of an annoyance, form of the disease and progresses rapidly.
really. She tried different foods to see which It can affect the skin and internal organs,
ones were the problem and went about her frequently the kidneys, esophagus, heart
life. She still cleaned like a banshee, cut the and/or lungs, along with muscles, joints,

and blood vessels. This form of scleroderma
can be quite disabling. Scleroderma affects
women more often than men and most
commonly occurs between the ages of 30
and 50. It's estimated 300,000 Americans
have scleroderma. There is no cure. They
don't know why people get it. It's not passed
from parent to child but genes do play a
role in its course and seem to put certain
people at risk. Hormones may play a part,
as well as environmental triggers. Jean
spent 30 years in the printing industry and
thinks maybe the chemicals at the print
shop contributed to her risk.
Over time, Jean's fingers got worse and she
was always cold. The stomach issues increased
and the list of things she could eat got shorter
and shorter. We rarely went out to eat because
her diet was, well, odd. She'd get a slice of
pizza, remove all the stuff on top and eat only
the crust. She'd eat just the tops of muffins
and broccoli cheddar or vegetable soup, plus
she drank coffee by the gallons. And she's a
vegetarian, not that being a vegetarian has
anything to do with it, but she had a limited
selection of vegetables she could eat.
Continued on page 14
SUMMER 2017 | Lehigh County Health & Medicine 13


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Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of LCHM Summer 2017

LCHM Summer 2017 - 1
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