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"Collagen vascular disease" is the name of a group of diseases that affect your connective tissue. Collagen is a protein-based connective tissue that forms a support system for your skin. Connective tissue holds bones, ligaments, and muscles together. Collagen vascular disease is sometimes also called connective tissue disease. Collagen vascular diseases can be heritable (inherited from one’s parents) or autoimmune (resulting from activity of the body’s immune system against itself). This article deals with autoimmune forms of collagen vascular diseases.
Some disorders classified as collagen vascular disease affect your joints, skin, blood vessels, or other vital organs. Symptoms vary according to the specific disease.
Types of autoimmune collagen vascular disease include:
Types of hereditary collagen disease include:
Collagen vascular disease is an autoimmune disease. This means that your immune system mistakenly attacks your body’s healthy tissue. No one knows what causes your immune system to do this. The attacks usually cause inflammation. If you have a collagen vascular disease, your immune system causes inflammation in your collagen and nearby joints.
Several collagen vascular diseases, including lupus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis, are more common in women than in men. This group of diseases usually affects adults in their 30s and 40s. Children younger than 15 can be diagnosed with lupus, but it mainly affects people older than 15.
Each type of collagen vascular disease has its own set of symptoms. However, most forms of collagen vascular disease do share some of the same general symptoms. People with collagen vascular disorders typically experience:
Lupus is a collagen vascular disease that causes unique symptoms in each patient. Additional symptoms can include:
People with lupus may have long periods of remission without symptoms. Symptoms can flare up during times of stress or after prolonged exposure to sunlight.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects about 1.3 million adults in the United States, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Inflammation of the connective tissue between the joints causes pain and stiffness. You may have chronic problems with dry eyes and a dry mouth. Your blood vessels or the lining of your heart may become inflamed if you have this form of collagen vascular disease.
Scleroderma is an autoimmune disease that can affect your:
The symptoms include thickening and hardening of the skin, rashes, and open sores. Your skin may feel tight, as if it’s being stretched, or feel lumpy in areas. Systemic scleroderma can cause:
Temporal arteritis, or giant cell arteritis, is another form of collagen vascular disease. Temporal arteritis is an inflammation of the large arteries, typically those in the head. The symptoms are most common in adults over the age of 70 and can include:
The treatment for collagen vascular disease varies according to your individual condition. However, corticosteroid and immunosuppressant medications commonly treat many connective tissue diseases.
Corticosteroids reduce inflammation throughout your body. This class of drugs also helps normalize your immune system. Corticosteroids can have major side effects in some people, including weight gain and mood changes. Some people may have an increase in blood sugar while taking corticosteroid medications.
Immunosuppressant medication works by lowering your immune response. If your immune response is lower, your body won’t attack itself as much it did before. However, having a lowered immunity can also increase your risk of becoming sick. Protect yourself from simple viruses by staying away from people who have colds or the flu.
Physical therapy or gentle exercise can also treat collagen vascular disease. Range of motion exercises help you retain your mobility and may reduce joint and muscle pain.
The outlook for collagen vascular disease varies from person to person, and it depends on their specific disease. However, they do have one thing in common: All autoimmune diseases are chronic conditions. They have no cure, and you must manage them throughout your life.
Your doctors will work with you to create a treatment plan that will help you manage your symptoms.
Written by: Erica Roth
Medically reviewed on: May 01, 2017: Daniel Murrell, MD
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