Connective tissue disease affects many people throughout the country. While this usually targets the joints, muscles, and skin, no organ is safe from it. Once it hits, it could cause a whole spectrum of problems that need immediate intervention. Here are some of the common types of this group of connective tissue disorders, their respective symptoms, and the best way to respond to them.
What a Connective Tissue Is
As the name suggests, a connective tissue primarily holds organs together. However, its role is not only limited to that. This type of tissue also supports and protects organs. A connective tissue is made up of two protein molecules which are collagen and elastin. Collagen is the main component of this type of tissue. Elastin, meanwhile, gives connective tissue the ability to stretch. A usual cause of connective tissue disease is triggered by inflammation affecting either the collagen or elastin or, in some cases, both.
Connective Tissue Disease
Connective tissue disease is the umbrella term used to encompass a whole host of disorders that affect the connective tissue. Some of these disorders may be very mild while some could be debilitating. As mentioned earlier, no part of the body is safe even if this disease attacks the connective tissue primarily. One has to remember the role of this type of tissue. It supports, binds, and protects body organs so when the connective tissue gets compromised, the organs it encases get compromised, too. This is the reason why early diagnosis and immediate medical intervention are very essential.
Different Types of Connective Tissue Disease
Connective tissue disease comes in many types. It causes different symptoms and should be responded to accordingly as well. Commonly, connective tissue disorders are grouped into two. The first is based on your genetic predisposition to suffer from connective tissue disease. In this category, these disorders are hereditary in nature. Diseases that belong to this category are commonly referred to as heritable disorders of connective tissue. The second is autoimmune. Here, the body attacks even the healthy cells and tissues. Causes of this type of connective tissue disease are largely unknown. Here are the most common types of connective tissue disease grouped accordingly.
- Osteogenesis imperfecta. This connective tissue disease is characterized by low muscle mass, brittle bones, and weak joints and ligaments. This happens when a genetic defect causes the reduction of protein in the body’s collagen. The telling signs of this particular disorder include thin skin, curved spine, hearing loss, labored breathing, and weak teeth prone to breakage. In some cases, there are blue or gray specks on the sclera (white of the eye).
- Ehler’s Danlos syndrome. This is quite a serious connective tissue disease that can lead to disabling outcomes if not properly managed. Here, a person suffering from Ehler’s Danlos syndrome will experience compromised blood vessels, gums that bleed easily, curved spine, and overall concerns with organs in the body particularly the heart, stomach, and lungs.
- Marfan syndrome. Here is another type of connective tissue disease caused by a genetic anomaly affecting the structure of a protein called fibrillin. People living with Marfan syndrome are usually tall with very long extremities.
- Epidermolysis bullosa. Here, patients have very sensitive skin that even the slightest impact might actually hurt them. This disease might involve the digestive system — the bladder, the muscles, or the respiratory tract.
- Polymyositis or dermatomyositis. These two are connected. Both are characterized by inflammation. The only difference is the affected area. In polymyositis, the muscles are affected while in dermatomyositis, the skin is the one targeted by the disorder. Signs of both diseases are similar. These include fever, labored breathing, body malaise, muscle weakness, weight loss, and difficulty swallowing.
- Sjogren’s syndrome. This connective tissue disease primarily targets the eyes and mouth causing dryness and pain. At its worst, it can affect the kidneys, the digestive system, and the nerves. It can even trigger lymphoma, a type of cancer that attacks the immune system.
- Scleroderma. This disease attacks body organs and causes the buildup of scar tissue. There are two kinds of scleroderma. The first is called localized scleroderma which affects the skin. The second is called systemic scleroderma which affects major organs including blood vessels.
- Systemic lupus erythematosus. This connective tissue disease is very serious and can be fatal. It leads the inflammation of internal organs as well as joints and muscles. Symptoms include hair loss, sensitivity to sunlight, butterfly rash on the cheeks and bridge of the nose, mouth ulcers, anemia, memory loss, concentration problems, fluid in the heart and lungs, and kidney concerns.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. This disease attacks the lining of the joints which leads to bouts of stiffness, pain, inflammation, fatigue, loss of appetite, fever, and blood problems. If left without any intervention, this type of connective tissue disease can cause joint deformity.
- Vasculitis. As the name suggests, this type affects blood vessels and may lead to various blood-related complications.
- Mixed connective tissue disease. A person with this type of connective tissue disease exhibits symptoms of various autoimmune disorders.
There is no known cure for connective tissue disease. The best way to respond to it is proper management of its symptoms. Here are some of the interventions used to manage the difficulties caused by this disease:
- Surgery. This is usually done among patients with Ehler’s Danlos or Marfan’s syndrome.
- Corticosteroids. These prevent inflammation and help stop your immune system from attacking your cells.
- Calcium channel blockers. These lessen the pressure in the muscular and vascular walls.
- Hypertension medication. This improves blood flow.
- Immunomodulators. Just like corticosteroids, it helps regulate immune system function and can lower the risk of it attacking your cells.
While symptoms can be seriously debilitating, connective tissue disease is not a death sentence. There are many patients who have learned to live with the disorder by managing the symptoms that come along with it. The first step is to consult the doctor. With his or her help, you can chart a path to lead a long and good life despite having to contend with this condition.