Systemic sclerosis (Scleroderma)

Systemic sclerosis is a systemic autoimmune condition resulting in excessive collagen deposition by fibroblasts.


  • Limited cutaneous systemic sclerosis: cutaneous sclerosis limited to below elbows
  • Diffuse cutaneous systemic sclerosis: cutaneous sclerosis extends above elbows – more likely to get organ involvement

Clinical features


  • Skin
    • Thick, tight, itchy skin
    • Usually affects the face, hands and feet but can progress to affect the whole body
  • CREST features
    • Calcinosis 
    • Raynaud’s
    • Esophageal dysfunction (heartburn)
    • Sclerodactyly (thickening and tightness of skin of fingers/toes)
    • Telangiectasia 


  • Hands 
    • Look: sclerodactyly, tight waxy skin, ulceration, blanching, finger-pulp atrophy
    • Feel: subcutaneous calcinosis, cool hands
    • Move: prayer sign lost (fixed flexion deformity of fingers)
  • Face
    • Mask-like face
    • Skin tethering
    • Telangiectasia
    • Microstomia
    • Beaked nose

Fibrotic organ involvement

LungsFibrosis, pulmonary hypertension
HeartMyocardial fibrosis → arrhythmias
KidneysAcute or chronic kidney injury, hypertension, acute renal hypertensive crises
GutReflux, dysphagia, faecal incontinence


  • Auto-antibodies
    • Antinuclear (commonly positive but non-specific)
    • Limited: anti-Centromere (CREST)
    • Diffuse: anti-topoisomerase (anti-Scl-70)
  • Assess extent of organ involvement (e.g. CXR/high-resolution CT, echocardiogram, ECG, U&Es, urinalysis, barium swallow)
  • Hand X-rays (calcinosis)


  • No cure
  • Symptomatic treatment
    • Raynaud’s: hand warmers, Ca2+ antagonists, IV prostacyclins, phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors
    • GI: proton pump inhibitor
  • Prevention of complications
    • Lung fibrosis: immunosuppressants (e.g. cyclophosphamide, mycophenolate)
    • Pulmonary hypertension: prostaglandins, endothelin antagonists, phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors, supplemental oxygen
    • Renal crises: low dose ACE inhibitor

Test yourself

What is colour sequence of Raynaud’s phenomenon?

Hands change colour in cold: White→Blue→Red
Remember as White Before Red!

What is the pathophysiology in Scleroderma renal crisis?

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