Connective tissue disease is a generalized term used for hundreds of different connective tissue disorders. Connective tissue holds together the cells in our body and is made up of collagen and elastin. Connective tissue disease affects these proteins and causes inflammation in your skin, other organs, joints, and muscles. These disorders can be broken up into two main categories: inherited and autoimmune. Inherited connective tissue disease occurs when there is a mutation in one of your genes, causing damage to the structure of your skin. Autoimmune connective tissue disease occurs when the cells in your body mistakenly attack your connective tissue. Autoimmune connective tissue disease is often linked to previously existing autoimmune disorders.
Examples of connective tissue disease that affect the skin
Scleroderma: An autoimmune connective tissue disease that causes a build up of scar tissue on the skin. Localized scleroderma only affects the skin and will not affect internal organs. Systemic scleroderma also causes a build up of scar tissue on major internal organs and can lead to organ damage.
Epidermolysis bullosa: A genetic or autoimmune connective tissue disease that causes the skin to become very delicate. The skin will become fragile, easily tearing or blistering at the slightest touch.
Systemic lupus erythematosus autoimmune (SLE or lupus): An autoimmune connective tissue disease that causes inflammation of the skin. People diagnosed with lupus may notice a rash on their cheeks and nose. Lupus also causes inflammation of the joints and organs.
Dermatomyositis: An autoimmune connective tissue disease that causes a skin rash and muscle weakness. The skin rash may appear violet colored and will develop on the face and in joint areas. Muscle weakness will follow and can worsen over time.
Signs and symptoms
Signs and symptoms vary depending on what type of connective tissue disease you are diagnosed with. Signs and symptoms associated with the skin includes:
- Skin changes, such as changes in color or texture
- Extremely fragile skin that blisters and tears continuously
- Unexplained build up of scar tissue on the body
- Inflammation of the skin including a rash on the cheeks and nose
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnostic tests vary depending on what your dermatologist finds during your skin examination. This can include tests for inflammation or autoimmune diseases, skin biopsies, or blood and urine tests. Although most connective tissue diseases cannot be fully cured, there are several effective ways to manage your symptoms. Once you are properly diagnosed, your dermatologists will craft the most effective treatment plan personalized for your skin’s needs.