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Experts warn untreated skin hardening leads to kidney, heart damage



The importance of early diagnosis of scleroderma, an autoimmune disease also known as skin hardening,  experts say cannot be overemphasised as it will help improve patient outcomes. Consequently, they suggested that the sooner the disease is diagnosed, the sooner appropriate treatment can commence. Since scleroderma disease is progressive, that is, it can get worse as time goes by, skin specialists warn that symptoms can continue to increase in severity if they remain untreated.

A Consultant Rheumatologist, Dermatology Clinic, Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Prof Femi Adblowo, said scleroderma belongs to a group of diseases called autoimmune disorders.

He explained, “This is when the body is at war with itself. Inside our blood, we have what is called the white blood cells. These white blood cells are the soldiers of the body and they have been programmed to protect the body against invaders like germs and infections. “But for some reason, some of these white cells gang up together and do what I can call a coup against the body and then begin to attack it.  The attack now goes into all the structures of the body.”

Adblowo noted that in scleroderma, the prominent attack is done on the skin, which causes the skin to form scar tissues or fibrous and then, thicken. According to him, besides the skin, scleroderma can also affect the blood vessels and vital organs of the body such as the lungs, heart, and kidneys. “That is why early diagnosis is important to avoid damage to these vital organs”, he added.

Speaking on the topic, ‘Scleroderma Will Not Take My Smile’ at an event organised by the Dermatology Clinic,  LUTH, Adblowo, suggested that since the disease has no cure for now, the best way to handle it is for those having strange development in their skin to seek specialist care through early diagnosis and proper treatment.

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“The treatment is all about the management of the complications. We still do not have any drug that will cure it. In scleroderma, we talk about management because it has no cure”, he said.

He, therefore, counselled,” If you are noticing changes on your skin, report to a skin doctor- dermatologist. He knows the right blood test to be done.

“Anytime you notice anything on your skin, don’t just go about buying creams in the pharmacy, go and see a skin doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

“It usually affects women of childbearing age in their 20s and 40s. In Nigeria is not too common, but from our record, out of 4000 patients, we saw 29 cases of scleroderma.”

The rheumatologist said scleroderma is a serious systemic condition that requires family support.

Identifying irritable cough, skin colouration, skin tightening, and difficulty in breathing as some of the symptoms of scleroderma, the physician also pointed out that effective management of the condition required a partnership between patients and healthcare providers.

Also, a Consultant Dermatologist with the hospital, Dr Otrofanowei  Erere,  urged people living with scleroderma to stop using local concoctions to treat it and refrain from attributing the disease to spiritual attack.

She dispelled the belief that the disease was caused by home trouble and witches and wizards from the village.

Calling for increased awareness about the disease, Erere said, “The more we spread awareness about the disease, the more those affected will come out to seek help and push for a cure.”

“When your skin is tightening, when your skin is hard, when you don’t understand what is happening to your skin, go and see a specialist. When you are not even sure of what the disease is, seek a second opinion.

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“Though scleroderma has no cure, we can control the disease to prevent complications and improve quality of life. You can smile even with scleroderma when early detection is done.”

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