Scleroderma

Birthmarks are abnormal skin discolorations in spots that are either present at birth or appear shortly thereafter. They can be flat or slightly raised from the skin. They can be any number of colors, including red, brown, black, tan, pink, white or purple. Birthmarks are generally harmless. There are two major categories of birthmarks: pigmented birthmarks and red birthmarks.

Pigmented Birthmarks can grow anywhere on the skin and at any time. They are usually black, brown or skin-colored and appear singly or in groups. They can be moles (congenital nevi) that are present at birth, Mongolian spots, which look like bluish bruises and appear more frequently on people with dark skin, or café-au-lait spots that are flat, light brown or tan and roughly form an oval shape.

Red Birthmarks (also known as macular stains) develop before or shortly after birth and are related to the vascular (blood vessel) system. There are a number of different types:

  • Angel kisses, which usually appear on the forehead and eyelids.
  • Stork bites, which appear on the back of the neck, between the eyebrows on the forehead, or on eyelids of newborns. They may fade away as the child grows, but often persist into adulthood.
  • Port-wine stains, which are flat deep-red or purple birthmarks made up of dilated blood capillaries (small blood vessels). They often appear on the face and are permanent.
  • Strawberry hemangiomas, composed of small, closely packed blood vessels that grow rapidly and can appear anywhere on the body. They usually disappear by age nine.
  • Cavernous hemangiomas are similar to strawberry hemangiomas but go more deeply into the layers of the skin. These can often be characterized by a bluish-purple color. They also tend to disappear naturally around school age.

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Roughly 300,000 people in the United States suffer from scleroderma. This chronic connective tissue disease results from an over-production of collagen in the skin and other organs. Scleroderma usually appears in people between the ages of 25 and 55. Women get scleroderma more often than men. The disease worsens slowly over years.

There are two types of scleroderma: localized scleroderma, which involves only the skin, and systemic scleroderma, which involves the skin and other organs, such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, intestine and gallbladder. Typical symptoms of the skin include skin hardening, skin that is abnormally dark or light, skin thickening, shiny hands and forearms, small white lumps beneath the skin's surface, tight facial skin, ulcerations on the fingers or toes and change in color of the fingers and toes from exposure to heat or cold. Other symptoms impact bones, muscles, lungs and the digestive tract.

There is no known cause of scleroderma, nor is there a cure. There are individualized treatments that are designed to help alleviate certain symptoms and decrease the activity of the immune system to further slow down the disease.