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Lifestyle Changes to Manage Scleroderma

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A number of lifestyle changes can help address specific symptoms of scleroderma.

General Guidelines for Managing Scleroderma

  • Address Raynaud’s phenomenon.
  • Maintain flexibility.
  • Improve your skin’s health.
  • Decrease gastrointestinal problems.
  • Seek support.

Address Raynaud’s Phenomenon

If you also have Raynaud’s phenomenon, the following changes can help relieve Raynaud’s symptoms:

  • Dress warmly.
  • Wear gloves and extra socks.
  • Avoid exposure to cold, including air conditioning.
  • Do not smoke. Smoking will make your symptoms worse because it causes blood vessels to become even narrower.

Maintain Flexibility

Get advice from your doctor about starting an appropriate exercise program to help you continue your daily activities. Learn facial exercises to decrease stiffness of the face and mask-like appearance. Include exercises that help you maintain the range of motion in your joints, improve circulation, and boost your energy levels. Ask your doctor if a consultation with a physical or occupational therapist may help in creating the right program for you.

Improve Your Skin’s Health

Here are strategies:

  • Do not take hot baths or showers because hot water will dry out your skin.
  • Frequently put on skin lotion, especially after bathing or showering.
  • Always apply sunscreen before you go outside, even on cloudy days.
  • Keep the air in your home moist by using humidifiers, especially in the winter.
  • Exercise regularly to improve blood circulation and flexibility.
  • Avoid exposure to harsh household chemicals, cleaners, and soaps.

Decrease Gastrointestinal Problems

Tips for reducing gastrointestinal symptoms include:

  • Avoid spicy and fatty foods, alcohol, and caffeine, all of which may irritate your stomach.
  • Eat small, frequent meals.
  • If you have heartburn at night, elevate the head of your bed.
  • Do not eat right before bedtime.
  • Dental problems are common in people with scleroderma. Be sure to have regular dental checkups and to brush and floss regularly.

Seek Support

Some people with scleroderma find themselves becoming depressed and anxious. Consider finding a support group where you can meet other people who have learned to cope with the challenges of scleroderma. Sharing your own struggles and triumphs, and learning from the struggles and triumphs of others can be very helpful.

When to Contact Your Doctor

Contact your doctor if:

  • Symptoms become worse
  • New symptoms arise
  • Depression or anxiety is interfering with your relationships, your ability to function normally, or your ability to enjoy life

Revision Information

  • Braunwald E. Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine. 15th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2001.

  • Ferri F, ed. Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2011. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2010.

  • Firestein E, Kelley W. Kelley’s Textbook of Rheumatology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2008.

  • Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Textbook of Internal Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2008.

  • Habif TP. Clinical Dermatology. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2004.

  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases website. Available at: http://www.niams.nih.gov/.

  • Noble J, Greene H. Textbook of Primary Care Medicine. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 1996.

  • Rakel R. Textbook of Family Medicine 2007. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

  • Rakel R, Bope E. Conn's Current Therapy. 60th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.

  • Scleroderma Foundation website. Available at: http://www.scleroderma.org/.

  • Sleisenger M, Feldman M, et al. Sleisenger & Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease. 8th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2005.