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Scleroderma Overview

Scleroderma, or systemic sclerosis, is a rare autoimmune disease that can cause the connective tissue in the skin — and sometimes the internal organs — to thicken and stiffen.

UPMC has a rich history in the treatment of scleroderma. Our experts have made significant contributions to understanding the epidemiology, clinical and laboratory features, and natural history of this disease.

A collaborative approach to care

Specialists at the University of Pittsburgh Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease at UPMC and the Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Program work closely with each other, and with our experts in the UPMC Arthritis and Autoimmunity Center, to help our patients manage the pulmonary complications of systemic sclerosis, which include pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension.

We also work closely with esophageal experts in UPMC’s Division of Gastroenterology and the UPMC Heart, Lung, and Esophageal Surgery Institute, because of the high prevalence of esophageal dysmotility, or loss of usual movement, and gastroesophageal reflux (GERD) in people with scleroderma.

There is also a growing body of evidence supporting an association between these esophageal disorders and the development of pulmonary fibrosis.

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Learn more about the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine.

Diagnosing Scleroderma

UPMC practices a multidisciplinary, integrated approach to the diagnosis and management of scleroderma.

To determine the best route for treatment, the doctor will:

  • Ask about your symptoms
  • Evaluate your medical history
  • Perform a physical exam

Diagnosis is based on changes in the skin and, sometimes, your blood vessels and internal organs.

Testing for scleroderma

Tests for diagnosing scleroderma may include:

  • Bood tests
  • Pulmonary function tests
  • Aesophagus study
  • X-ray
  • MRI scan
  • CT scan
  • Biopsies of the skin and other tissues

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Scleroderma Treatments

Optimal care heavily depends on a team of specialists, whose complementary skills provide each patient with a full range of treatment options for scleroderma.

It's this combination of specialization, complete care, research excellence, and patient support at the University of Pittsburgh Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease, that sets the high standard of care for interstitial lung disease at UPMC.

Treatment options for scleroderma

  • Surgical lung biopsy — UPMC specialists at the Simmons Center work closely with our expert thoracic surgeons and pulmonary pathologists on those cases that require a surgical lung biopsy to help formulate a management plan.
  • Lung transplantation — For people with progressive lung disease that respond poorly to medical therapy, lung transplantation may be an option.

The UPMC Lung Transplantation Program is nationally renowned. Our experts have performed more than 1,400 lung transplants since the program’s inception.

Doctors at the Simmons Center work closely with members of the Lung Transplant Program to refer patients for evaluation, when the time is right.

Comprehensive and coordinated care

At the Simmons Center, we:

  • Are committed to practicing cutting-edge, advanced medicine and providing comprehensive patient education.
  • Offer access to clinical research and trials that further our understanding of lung disease and hold the promise of better therapies for our patients in the future.
  • Strive to work closely with both our local experts, and our patients’ referring physicians, to ensure comprehensive and coordinated management of each and every patient’s care.

Learn more about scleroderma

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