During the process of trying to figure out which connective tissue disease I would have wanted to be diagnosed with, I actually learned a lot about the diseases. Honestly, I never even knew that there was a such thing as connective tissue disease, and that it could be so extensive in it affects the systems of the body. By the end of my research I felt like I had kind of earned a medical degree, or at least needed to be on someone’s research team. Seriously speaking, there is a lot of information on this subject so don’t be overwhelmed with the information and make sure you ask your doctor as many questions as you need to. It’s important to be your own advocate!
Connective tissue disease refers to a group of disorders involving the protein-rich tissue that supports organs and other parts of the body. Examples of connective tissue are fat, bone, and cartilage. These disorders often involve the joints, muscles, and skin, but they can also involve other organs and organ systems, including the eyes, heart, lungs, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and blood vessels.
There are more than 200 disorders that affect the connective tissue.
Causes and specific symptoms vary by the different types.
Inherited Disorders of Connective Tissue
Some connective tissue diseases — often called heritable disorders of connective tissue (HDCTs) — are the result of changes in certain genes. Many of these are quite rare. Following are some of the more common ones.
For other forms of connective tissue disease, the cause is not known. In some cases, researchers believe the disorder may be triggered by something in the environment of people who may be genetically susceptible. In these diseases, the body’s normally protective immune system produces antibodies that target the body’s own tissues for attack.
These diseases include the following.
People with dermatomyositis may also have a skin involvement around the eyes and the hands.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease in which the immune system attacks the thin membrane (called the synovium) lining the joints, causing pain, stiffness, warmth and swelling of the joints, and inflammation throughout the body. Other symptoms may include:
- Loss of appetite
RA can lead to permanent joint damage and deformity.
Scleroderma is a term for a group of disorders that causes thick, tight skin, buildup of scar tissue, and organ damage. These disorders fall into two general categories: localized scleroderma and systemic sclerosis.
Localized scleroderma is confined to the skin and, sometimes, the muscle beneath it. Systemic sclerosis also involves the blood vessels and major organs.
Sjögren’s syndrome is a chronic disease in which the immune system attacks the moisture-producing glands, such as those of the eyes and mouth. The effects can range from mildly uncomfortable to debilitating. Although dry eyes and mouth are the main symptoms of Sjögren’s, many people also experience extreme fatigue and joint pain. The condition also increases the risk of lymphoma and may cause problems with the kidneys, lungs, blood vessels, and digestive system as well as nerve problems.
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or simply lupus) is a disease characterized by inflammation of the joints, skin, and internal organs. Symptoms may include:
- A butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and bridge of the nose
- Sensitivity to sunlight
- Mouth ulcers
- Hair loss
- Fluid around the heart and/or lungs
- Kidney problems
- Anemia or other blood cell problems
- Problems with memory and concentration or other nervous system disorders