Causes of Scleroderma

The exact cause of scleroderma is unknown. There are a number of environmental factors that appear to be related to scleroderma or scleroderma-like illnesses, including exposure to silica dust, vinyl chloride, epoxy resins, and other organic solvents. Several studies have shown some evidence of geographic clustering, which is also consistent with possible environmental risk factors.  Scleroderma is best thought of a disease with two components: genetic susceptibility and a trigger event, for example, exposure to silica dust.

A number of researchers have investigated the possible link between scleroderma and silicone breast implants (e.g., Lipworth et al. 2011). To date, all of these studies have shown no causal link. While there are certainly many reported cases of scleroderma and other auto-immune disorders among women who have had breast implants, this is the same population which is most likely to develop auto-immune disorders such as scleroderma in any case, and the incidence of auto-immune disorders among these women is consistent with the expected incidence in this population.

There is some research support for the idea that a subset of scleroderma patients may have mycoplasma or bacterial infections as a possible trigger for their scleroderma.  It also appears that a significant percentage of Lyme disease patients may also have mycoplasma or other co-infections (Berghoff 2012).  While there have not been any studies directly linking Lyme disease to scleroderma, the linkage between Lyme disease and mycoplasma co-infections suggest this may be a possible trigger for scleroderma in susceptible patients.

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