The effects of scleroderma on the skin include swelling, a loss of normal color resulting in a pale complexion or a color that is darker than usual, a tingling sensation, the abnormal formation of external and internal scar tissue and a shiny appearance to the skin. This disorder also can cause skin hardening and skin tightening. There are different types of the disorder that are characterized by the specific effects it has on the skin and the severity of these effects.
"Limited," "diffuse" and "Raynaud's phenomenon" are terms used to more accurately denote the effects of scleroderma on the skin. When the disorder is limited, generally only the skin of the hands is effected. Sufferers of the limited version of the disorder might also experience Raynaud's phenomenon, during which the fingers can suddenly begin to tingle and lose their normal color. They might also suddenly become numb or ache if exposed to cold temperatures or if the individual becomes upset or disturbed. Effects of scleroderma on the skin in the case of sclerosis or limited cutaneous scleroderma include the formation of deposits of calcium anywhere on the body.
The limited form of scleroderma is often referred to by an acronym for its five features. These features include calcinosis, Raynaud's syndrome and esophageal dysmotility, as well as sclerodactyly and telangiectasia. These form the acronym CREST, creating the term "CREST syndrome."
If a person suffers from the diffuse form of the disorder, the scleroderma effects on the skin can become extremely uncomfortable, greatly interfering with normal activity and even posing a threat to life, because the condition can progress to any part of the body. Skin on the face can tighten to the point of preventing the sufferer from controlling his or her facial expressions. Spider veins can appear on any part of the face, chest and even the tongue, and calcium bumps or lumps can form on bony areas such as the fingers and toes and at the joints. Sores can break out on the tips of the fingers, the knuckles and the wrists, and the elbows and fingers can become locked in a flexed position because of scar tissue in the skin around those areas.
Among the effects of scleroderma on the skin is the formation of scar tissue within internal organs, which is why the disorder can become life-threatening. Some of the organs that can be affected are the lungs, kidneys, heart, intestines and esophagus. It is possible for scar tissue to form at the lower end of the esophagus or food tube, and it commonly leads to great difficulty swallowing. Scar tissue can form on the intestinal lining interfering with proper absorption of nutrients from food. The formation of scar tissue in the kidneys, lungs and heart can easily provoke damage to these organs and result in kidney or heart failure, constant shortness of breath and possibly death. People who suspect that they might be experiencing the effects of scleroderma on the skin are advised to visit a medical professional without delay.