Scleroderma, which means “hard skin” in Latin, is a type of autoimmune disease that affects the connective tissues and blood vessels of the body. Connective tissue is mostly made of collagen and gives structure and support to the organs of the body. Collagen is a protein that the body uses to make scar tissue to repair itself. In scleroderma, the immune system attacks the body’s organs and tissues. As a result, excess collagen is produced and scar tissue forms.
The additional symptoms your doctor is mentioning (shortness of
breath and fatigue) are those of pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), a
disease of the small arteries of the lungs. PAH is a common
complication of scleroderma. Between eight to 12 percent of all
scleroderma patients develop PAH.
In patients suffering from PAH, arteries become damaged and narrowed,
making it difficult for the right side of the heart to pump blood
through the lungs. Your doctor, therefore, wants to make sure right away
that you’re not developing PAH.
Scleroderma patients tend to have exercise limitations and it is
important to report any changes in your current abilities. Unexplained
shortness of breath or increasing fatigue, swelling of the ankles, legs,
abdomen or arms, chest discomfort or pain, and light-headedness and
fainting are all symptoms your doctor will want to know about, since
these can also be signs of pulmonary arterial hypertension. Read More