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Terms you may hear

Scleroderma, like every other condition, has its own language and there may be many terms that you are unfamiliar with. We have defined the majority of terms used here, but if there is something you do not understand please do contact us.




Acid reflux, heartburn:

Stomach acid which abnormally travels up into and irritates the oesophagus. Acid production is a normal part of digestion in the stomach. Heartburn refers to pain in the centre of the chest caused by acid reflux. (See Oesophagitis)



A medication which reduces or eliminates pain. Example: paracetamol or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.



Medication used to treat an infection. Each antibiotic kills or inhibits the growthof specific microorganisms, so antibiotics are prescribed based on the type of infection




Pain in a joint.



Disease or antibody which acts against the patient’s own tissues. (See Immune System)



A technique used to regulate a body function usually involuntarily controlled, such as a finger temperature or pulse rate. By observing a machine monitoring the function, a person can practise relaxation techniques and learn to control the function. Later, the machine becomes unnecessary. (See Relaxation Techniques)



The removal and examination of tissue, cells or fluid from the body.



To become white or pale. In Raynaud’s phenomenon, the fingers and toes blanch due to insufficient circulation of blood.



Abnormal accumulation of calcium in the skin.



The smallest blood vessels of the body, connecting arteries and veins.



A normal, fibrous protein found in the connective tissue of the body.


Connective tissue:

Tissue which pervades, supports and binds together other tissues including mucous, fibrous, reticular, adipose, cartilage, skin and bone. Connective tissue diseases are a group of diseases with similar cellular changes, but with the site where the changes occur determining the specific disease. Included are scleroderma, systemic lupus erythematosus, dermatomyositis, and rheumatoid arthritis.


Constrict (vessels), stricture (oesophagus):

An abnormal narrowing.


Contraction (of intestinal muscles):

The rhythmic squeezing action of the muscles of the wall of the intestine which moves food through the system. Also called peristalsis.


Coronary arteries:

Blood vessels which supply blood to the heart itself.



Form of scleroderma, whose initials stand for calcinosis, Raynaud’s phenomenon,(o)esophageal dysmotility, sclerodactyly, and telangiectasia. This term is now rarely used.



Of the skin.



Blue or purple colour due to lack of blood oxygen. In Raynaud’s phenomenon, cyanosis of the fingers and toes may follow blanching.



Chemical signals in the blood.



Fingers and toes.


Dilate (oesophagus, blood vessels):

To widen or enlarge.



Medication to increase the flow of urine, thereby decreasing fluid retention in the tissues. Also called, “water tablets”.



Impaired or abnormal functioning.



Difficulty in swallowing.


En coup de sabre: A form of localised scleroderma which forms a long crease of waxy skin, resembling a cut by a sabre or sword wound usually on face or neck.



Weariness, a sense of being overwhelmingly tired, or exhaustion.



Consisting of, or resembling fibres.



Abnormal formation of excess fibrous tissue.


Gastrointestinal tract, bowel, diarrhoea, constipation:

The gastrointestinal tract is the digestive system which breaks down food, allows absorption of nutrients, removal of cellular waste products and elimination of solid waste from the body. It begins with the mouth and oesophagus and leads to the stomach. The small intestine consists of the duodenum, jejunum and ileum. Lastly, the large intestine (also called colon) leads to the rectum. The term bowel refers to the intestine. The anal sphincter is the muscle which controls discharge of stool. Diarrhoea is abnormally frequent or excessive passing of stool, usually watery. Constipation is the abnormally delayed or infrequent passage of stool, usually in a dry and hardened state. Normal bowel movements vary from person to person and with diet.


Hypertension, anti-hypertensive:

Abnormally high blood pressure. An anti-hypertensive medication lowers blood pressure.


Immune System:

The system of organs, cells and proteins which protect the body from foreign substances by producing immune responses. The immune system organs include the thymus, spleen, lymph nodes and bone marrow. The cells include white blood cells 33 (neutrophils, eosinophils, basophils, monocytes and lymphocytes (T and B cells)). Immunoglobulins (antibodies) are proteins that can react with and/or neutralize corresponding proteins called antigens (usually damaged or foreign material). The immune system is essentially protective and helpful to the body, but can be the cause of disease and allergy when it attacks parts of the normal body in a process called auto-immunity.


Inflammation, anti-inflammatory:

Tissue reaction to cell injury marked by redness, heat, pain, swelling and often loss of function. Capillary dilation and white blood cell infiltration help eliminate foreign substances and damaged tissue, so normally; inflammation is a natural part of the healing process. Excessive or inappropriate inflammation can, however, cause further damage. Anti-inflammatory drugs counteract inflammation.


Joint contracture, flexion contracture:

Fixation of a joint in one position preventing full range of motion. In scleroderma, this frequently affects the fingers due to tightening and hardening of the skin around the joint. In flexion contractures, the fingers become fixed in a bent (flexed) position.


Lacrimal glands:

Tear-producing glands, also spelled lachrymal.



A medication which stimulates emptying of the bowels.


Lubrication, secretion:

Substance which makes a surface slippery or oily, either artificially by applying lubricating fluids, or naturally by secreting fluids made by cells for this purpose. Example: tears.


Malabsorption: The reduced ability of the bowel cells to take nutrients from the digestive tract.



Abnormally small mouth opening.


Mixed Connective Tissue Disease:

Overlap or presence of symptoms of two or more diseases simultaneously. (See Collagen and Connective tissue)



A form of localised scleroderma.


Motility, dysmotility:

Contractions of the digestive-tract muscles occurring in rhythmic waves, propelling food, allowing absorption of nutrients and elimination of wastes (faeces). Dysmotility indicates weakened or absent waves of contraction resulting in abnormally slow movement of food and faeces. (See Malabsorption, Gastrointestinal tract, Contraction)


Occupational Therapy (OT)

Therapy using activity prescribed to promote recovery or rehabilitation. OT is often designed to increase the ability to perform acts of daily living, such as grooming, eating and concentrating on the hands and small muscle control. (See also Physical Therapy)



An abnormal excess accumulation of fluid in tissues of the body.


Oesophagus, oesophagitis:

The muscular swallowing tube connecting the mouth and the stomach. When properly functioning, it contracts in smooth waves to send food to the stomach. At its lower end a sphincter (ring-like muscle) opens to allow food to pass into the stomach, but closes again to prevent stomach acid or partially digested food from backing  up into the oesophagus. Oesophagitis is an inflammation or irritation of the oesophagus.



Related to, or situated near the eye.


Overlap syndromes:

Presence of the features of more than one connective tissue disease in a patient.


Pericardium, Pericarditis:

The lining of the heart is called the pericardium and its inflammation is called pericarditis.


Peripheral blood circulation:

The flow of blood to the arms and legs.



An unusual, significant, or unaccountable fact or occurrence which, when observed, is of scientific interest.


Physiotherapy (PT)

Treatment of disease and injury by mechanical means such as massage, regulated exercise, water, light, heat and electricity. It is often concerned primarily with joint motion, large muscle groups and activities such as walking and aerobic and isometric exercise. (See also Occupational Therapy)


Pleura, Pleurisy:

Pleura is the lining of the lungs and its inflammation is called pleurisy.


Prognosis of disease:

Prediction of the progression and end result of a disease, or estimate of chance of recovery.


Pulmonary fibrosis (fibrosing alveolitis):

A process of scar tissue development in the lungs, decreasing the transfer of oxygen to the blood.


Pulmonary arterial hypertension:

Elevated pressure in the arteries of the lungs, decreasing blood oxygen and straining the right side of the heart.


Raynaud’s phenomenon:

A disorder with recurring spasms of the small blood vessels upon exposure to cold; characterized by fingers and toes turning white, blue and red as circulation abnormally overreacts to normal conditions. Emotional stress may also trigger an attack. Named after the French physician (Dr. Maurice Raynaud, pronounced “Ray-no”) who first described it. Primary Raynaud’s (previously called Raynaud’s disease) is a common, benign condition which is not caused by any underlying conditions. When Raynaud’s phenomenon is caused by scleroderma or other diseases, it is called secondary Raynaud’s phenomenon.


Relaxation techniques:

Stress-reducing procedures, which can also be used to help regulate body functions such as finger temperature or pulse rate. These include tensing and relaxing muscles, imagery, breathing techniques, and medication. (See also Biofeedback)


Remission, spontaneous remission:

A period during which the symptoms of a disease decrease or go away. If the reason for remission is not related to treatment but seems to occur for no apparent reason, it is called spontaneous.



Relating to the kidneys.



Pertaining to breathing or the lungs.



Ridges produced by folding of the skin over the upper lip.


Salivary glands:

Glands which secrete fluid (saliva) into the mouth.



Thick, tight skin of the fingers and/or toes. (See Joint contracture)



An abnormal hardening of tissue.


Sicca symptoms:

Sicca literally means dry; is often used to describe symptoms of dry eyes, mouth etc. experienced by some people with scleroderma or other connective tissue diseases.


Sjögren’s Syndrome:

Sjögren's syndrome is a chronic autoimmune disease characterised by inflammation affecting the exocrine glands (tear, salivary) leading to decreased tear and saliva secretion. Extraglandular manifestations such as joint pain, fatigue or internal organ complications are less common. It can occur on its own (primary) or in association with other connective tissue diseases (secondary). (Pronounced “show-gren’s”)


Skin ulceration:

A break in the skin with loss of surface tissue. It may also be associated with inflammation, calcium deposits and infection.



Involuntary and abnormal contraction of muscle.



A slowing or stoppage of the movement of body fluids or reduced motility of the intestines with retention of faeces.



Affecting the whole body rather than one of its parts. Opposite of localised.



An abnormal dilation of skin capillaries causing red spots on the skin.



Pertaining to, or composed of blood vessels.



A medication (or other substance) which causes widening of blood vessels.



Very Early Diagnoses clinic for Systemic Sclerosis (an initiative to establish clinics for early diagnosis throughout Europe).

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