Diffuse scleroderma scars the skin of the esophagus and hampers swallowing; it damages blood vessels, kidneys, lungs and other organs. It can be fatal.
The causes of scleroderma are unknown. It has been viewed as an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks its own tissues, perhaps due to hormone imbalances. However in 1998, evidence arose that the body may be attacking foreign tissues, namely fetal cells that remain in the mother's blood after childbirth. Women with scleroderma have 11 fetal cells per blood sample, while their healthy sisters have only 1.3.
The incidence is 14 per million, of which 80% are women.