Clinical manifestations of systemic sclerosis.
Georgetown University Medical School, Washington, DC 20007, USA.
Systemic sclerosis is a multisystem disease characterized by inflammation and fibrosis of many organs. There are two major subsets, limited cutaneous (the old CREST syndrome) and diffuse cutaneous scleroderma. The major difference is the pace of disease. Limited scleroderma patients often have a long history of Raynaud's phenomenon before other symptoms. They have skin thickening limited to hands and frequently have problems with digital ulcers and esophageal dysmotility. Although generally a milder form than diffuse scleroderma, they can have life-threatening complications from small intestine hypomotility and pulmonary hypertension. Diffuse scleroderma patients have a much more acute onset, with many constitutional symptoms, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and marked swelling of hands and legs. They get widespread skin thickening, progressing from their fingers to their trunk. Internal organ problems, including gastrointestinal and pulmonary fibrosis, are common, but severe life-threatening involvement of the heart and kidneys occurs. Understanding the type of disease that occurs in these two subsets will enable the physician to anticipate problems, aggressively treat those that can be treated, and give the patient a better understanding of their disease.