Collagen vascular disease is a terminology used for group of disorders that pertains to problems related with connective tissue in the body. The diseases included under this category are rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma, etc. They all are autoimmune diseases where the body’s own immune system attacks healthy connective tissues such as the skin, bones, muscles, and ligaments, blood vessels etc.
Collagen is a protein which makes up the connective tissue. Hence collagen vascular disease is also referred as connective tissue disorder by many. Collagen provides strength and support to the tissue. Some type of collagen vascular disease can damage single organ while some types can affect systematically.
The exact cause of this disease is not known. Symptoms may vary according to the type of collagen vascular disease. Most of the collagen vascular diseases are chronic. They affect the daily activities of a person. Treatment is mainly conservative that includes corticosteroids and immunosuppressant drugs.
What Causes Collagen Vascular Disease?
Collagen vascular diseases as mentioned earlier are autoimmune disorders. It means the immune system of the body mistakenly attacks the healthy tissues of the body leading to inflammatory changes in the affected tissue and organs.
Researchers do not know what makes the immune system of the body to react like this. However, they do know that there can be strong genetic component that may be transferred from parents. Certain other factors such as increase in specific antibodies and stress can also make the immune system go haywire. They usually occur in young and middle aged people, mostly women.
Symptoms Of Collagen Vascular Disease
There are several forms of collagen vascular disease. Each condition has its own set of symptoms. Let us know these conditions and their symptoms.
- Rheumatoid arthritis: It is the most common among all collagen vascular diseases. In this condition there is inflammation in the lining of joints. The affected joints include knees, elbow, finger, hip and ankle joint. It causes swelling in one or more than one joints of feet or hands. The other characteristic symptoms are stiffness and pain. It is a chronic disease which over a period of time can also cause dryness in eyes and mouth. It can also affect the lining of blood vessel of heart.
- Lupus erythematosus: Facial rash on cheeks is characteristic feature of lupus. The patient suffering from this disease may also suffer from other symptoms such as joint pain, tiredness, difficulty while breathing, dry eyes, repeated miscarriage, mouth ulcers etc. There is frequent flare ups and remission of symptoms in this condition.
- Systemic scleroderma: In scleroderma there is abnormal growth of collagen. It affects the joints, skin and various other organs. Patient gets typical swelling in tips of finger, pain in joints, bumps on joints made up of calcium and spider veins. The other organs affected are digestive tract, heart and lungs besides skin.
- Sjogren syndrome: The symptoms include dryness in mouth and eyes. The condition is often accompanied with other autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
- Temporal arteritis: It is inflammation of large arteries. In this case the arteries of head become swollen and scarred. Mostly older people are affected. Tenderness on scalp, pain and stiffness in jaw, mild to severe headache, and vision loss are some of its symptoms.
Diagnosis And Treatment Of Collagen Vascular Disease
Diagnosis of collagen vascular disease is made by the physician after taking detailed medical history, physical examination and certain tests. Tests that help to diagnose the condition include: blood tests, urine analysis, X-ray of joints, echocardiogram, CT scan.
Treatment of collagen vascular disease is individualized depending on the disease the patient is suffering from. But in majority of cases corticosteroids and immunosuppressant medicines remains the main stay treatment.
- Corticosteroids: They are anti inflammatory medicines. These medicines reduce inflammation and bring back the immune system to its normal.
- Immunosuppressants: These medicines suppress the immune system of the body and thus reduce the effect of its attack on the healthy tissue.
- Physiotherapy: It helps to reduce pain, increase movement of joints and strengthen them.
- Change in lifestyle: Stress reducing techniques such as yoga and meditation and regular exercise is beneficial to reduce the symptoms.
- Joint surgery: In certain patients where there is irreversible and irreparable damage that has occurred in joints, joint replacement surgery may be necessary.