Medical Minute 10-12: Scleroderma - Hidden Nightmare

By: Ramin Khalili Email
By: Ramin Khalili Email

Shannon Abert is "open" with her doctor - more so than she'd ever be in public.

"What happened with me was ... my hands kept turning purple."

Seven years ago, she was diagnosed with scleroderma - which attacks the body's own organs.For Shannon, it's her skin; for others, it's the heart, lungs or kidneys, which can be fatal.

"My fingers were all stuck in this position," said Shannon Abert.

Her body sends excess collagen to her hands, slowing blood supply and causing ulcers. She was forced to retire from teaching when her fingers became too rigid.

"Since the immune system is attacking the body's own tissues - that tissue remains, the attack remains, and it becomes chronic," said Maureen Mayes, M.D., University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, TX.

Doctor Maureen Mayes at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston wants answers. Just 300,000 people are affected nationwide, but 85% of cases are women. Mayes leads the only study to map the genes triggering scleroderma: She's found 25% so far. No one knows what causes the body to turn on itself.

"I would love to be able to know the cause, and see the cure," said Maureen Mayes, M.D.

"I never even heard of this disease until I got it," said Shannon Abert.

Medication helps Shannon now. But she'll never reclaim the past.

"Sometimes it hits me ... it's like 'wow, that's what I used to be - and I'm not anymore.'"

Maureen Mayes, MD, MPH Professor of Internal Medicine University of Texas - Houston Health Science Center Phone: (713) 500-6905 E-mail:

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