Systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) is unique among the rheumatic diseases because it presents the challenge of managing a chronic multisystem autoimmune disease with a widespread obliterative vasculopathy of small arteries that is associated with varying degrees of tissue fibrosis. The hallmark of scleroderma is clinical heterogeneity with subsets that vary in the degree of disease expression, organ involvement, and ultimate prognosis. Thus, the term scleroderma is used to describe patients who have common manifestations that link them together, whereas a highly variable clinical course exists that spans from mild and subtle findings to aggressive, life-threatening multisystem disease. The physician needs to carefully characterize each patient to understand the specific manifestations and level of disease activity to decide appropriate treatment. This is particularly important in treating a patient with scleroderma because there is no treatment that has been proven to modify the overall disease course, although therapy that targets specific organ involvement early before irreversible damage occurs improves both quality of life and survival. This review describes our approach as defined by evidence, expert opinion, and our experience treating patients. Scleroderma is a multisystem disease with variable expression; thus, any treatment plan must be holistic, yet at the same time focus on the dominant organ disease. The goal of therapy is to improve quality of life by minimizing specific organ involvement and subsequent life-threatening disease. At the same time the many factors that alter daily function need to be addressed, including nutrition, pain, deconditioning, musculoskeletal disuse, comorbid conditions, and the emotional aspects of the disease, such as fear, depression, and the social withdrawal caused by disfigurement.
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