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How to Diagnose Scleroderma return to first page
Finally, your doctor may order lab tests to help confirm a suspected diagnosis. At least two proteins, called antibodies, are commonly found in the blood of people with scleroderma:
Antitopoisomerase-1 or Anti-Scl-70 antibodies appear in the blood of up to 30 percent of people with diffuse systemic sclerosis. Anticentromere antibodies are found in the blood of as many as 50 percent of people with limited systemic sclerosis.
A number of other scleroderma-specific antibodies can occur in people with scleroderma, although less frequently. When present, however, they are helpful in clinical diagnosis and may give additional information as to the risks for specific organ problems.
Because not all people with scleroderma have these antibodies and because not all people with the antibodies have scleroderma, lab test results alone cannot confirm the diagnosis.
In some cases, your doctor may order a skin biopsy (the surgical removal of a small sample of skin for microscopic examination) to aid in or help confirm a diagnosis. However, skin biopsies, too, have their limitations: biopsy results cannot distinguish between localized and systemic disease, for example.
Diagnosing scleroderma is easiest when a person has typical symptoms and rapid skin thickening. In other cases, a diagnosis may take months, or even years, as the disease unfolds and reveals itself and as the doctor is able to rule out some other potential causes of the symptoms. In some cases, a diagnosis is never made, because the symptoms that prompted the visit to the doctor go away on their own.
Some patients have some symptoms related to scleroderma and may fit into one of the following groups:
- Undifferentiated connective tissue disease (UCTD): This is a term for patients who have some signs and symptoms of various related diseases, but not enough symptoms of any one disease to make a definitive diagnosis. In other words, their condition hasn't "differentiated" into a particular connective tissue disease. In time, UCTD can go in one of three directions: it can change into a systemic disease such as systemic sclerosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, or rheumatoid arthritis; it can remain undifferentiated; or it can improve spontaneously.
- Overlap syndromes: This is a disease combination in which patients have symptoms and lab findings characteristic of two or more conditions.
What Other Conditions Can Look Like Scleroderma?
A number of other diseases have symptoms similar to those seen in scleroderma. Here are some of the most common scleroderma "look-alikes."
Is Research Close to Finding a Cure?