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There are over 200 types of rheumatic disease and over nine million people in the UK have some form of arthritis. Arthritis means inflammation of the joints. Most people with arthritis will experience pain and some difficulty in moving around.

Arthritis affects people of all ages, including children. It is not clear what causes it and there is no cure at present. However, treatment can largely alleviate the symptoms and enable people to continue to live an active life, although some modifications may be necessary.

Rheumatic Conditions FAQs

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Scleroderma literally means hard skin. It is an uncommon condition in which too much collagen is produced by the cells of the connective tissues which surround the joints, blood vessels and internal organs. This causes thickening and stiffness of the skin and the tissues beneath it.

There are two types of scleroderma, localised and systemic. In localised scleroderma (morphoea) changes only occur in isolated areas of the skin and underlying tissues. This type is quite mild and does not affect internal organs. Systemic scleroderma is a more severe form in which there are changes in the skin and also within internal organs such as blood vessels and joints and the digestive system (oesophagus, stomach and bowel. It also occasionally affects the lungs, heart, kidneys and muscles.

Scleroderms usually begins slowly, gets worse over a few years and then stabilises. It varies in severity from person to person but usually only affects a few parts of the body and severe disability is uncommon.

The symptoms of scleroderma may include Raynaud's Phenomenon in which there is extreme sensitivity to cold, causing the blood vessels to constrict or narrow. This most often affects the fingers and toes, which become first white and then blue and may tingle or become numb. When the blood vessels open again the skin colour and temperature returns to normal.

Another symptom is swelling of the hands and feet where the skin becomes shiny and the usual skin creases disappear. This causes stiffness and restricts movement of affected areas. In the later stages, ulceration of the fingers can also occur. The joints may become inflamed, causing pain, stiffness, warmth and tenderness. Over time, straightening the fingers and toes may become difficult due to contractures (tightening of the skin and tissues surrounding joints).

Scleroderms may also affect the connective tissue of the internal organs causing symptoms such as heartburn, swallowing problems (dysphagia) and disturbance of bowel function. High blood pressure (hypertension) may also develop is the kidneys are affected.

Treatment of scleroderma consists of regular exercise to keep the skin supple, reduce contractures and maintain good circulation. Sometimes lighweight splinting is helpful to protect joints and prevent contractures. Skincare is very important to protect it from cracking, peeling and ulcerating. Use of effective moisturisers is advised. Keeping the hands and feet warm and avoiding sudden changes in temperature is essential. Thermal clothing, hand warmers and electrically-heated gloves and socks may be useful.