31 May Scleroderma and Pregnancy Risks
Scleroderma, a connective tissue disease, most often affects women of childbearing age (30-50).¹
Scleroderma is a fairly rare disease, affecting 75,000 – 100,000 people in the United States. Women are affected more than men, mostly during childbearing years from ages 30-50. For this reason, it’s thought that hormones play a role in the development of Scleroderma, but the cause is still unknown.¹
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease of the connective tissue. This means that the body creates antibodies that attack its own tissue, in this case, creating too much collagen. The constant inflammation process causes structural and visible changes to the skin, characterized by thickening, tightening, and scarring over time.¹
Localized Scleroderma means the disease has affected mostly the skin, sometimes involving the muscles, joints and bones. There are often discolored patches, streaks, or bands of thick, hard skin on the arms, legs and face.¹
Systemic Scleroderma involves the skin, muscles, joints, as well as blood vessels, lungs, kidneys, heart and other organs.¹
There is currently no cure for Scleroderma, only symptom management, but there is a great deal of research currently underway. It’s important that if you are pregnant or thinking of becoming pregnant and have a Scleroderma diagnosis, that you make an appointment with your provider to discuss a plan for safe pregnancy and birth. Read more about chronic disease management.
Scleroderma and Pregnancy Risks
Scleroderma often has periods of remission (when you are not affected by the disease) and periods of inflammation. Usually, Scleroderma with organ involvement occurs within the first three years of diagnosis. For this reason, the medical recommendation is to wait three years from the onset of symptoms before getting pregnant. This is to ensure there is a low risk of organ involvement which could cause serious problems for the mother and baby.²
If you are planning a pregnancy, you’ll want to consult with your provider about the safest time to get pregnant. Pregnancy with Scleroderma is considered a high risk pregnancy and you will need specialized care.
Scleroderma increases the risk of several conditions for mother and baby:
- preeclampsia and high blood pressure (preeclampsia is high blood pressure plus organ involvement leading to protein in urine, headaches, and vision changes)
- poor growth of baby in the womb
- preterm labor
- cesarean section.²
Mothers with scleroderma need specialized care, often from high risk ob/gyns as well as rheumatoid specialists and dermatologists. Scleroderma involves a change in appearance and can affect a woman’s self-image and self-esteem. She needs a lot of emotional support from friends and family to help her cope with these permanent changes.
Most of all, it’s vital that women with Scleroderma seek prenatal care and create a plan for safe pregnancy with their provider.
- American College of Rheumatology. December 2021. Scleroderma. https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Scleroderma
- March of Dimes. May 2013. Scleroderma and Pregnancy. https://www.marchofdimes.org/scleroderma-and-pregnancy.aspx