What is Collagen Vascular Disease?
Collagen vascular disease belongs to a collection or group of autoimmune diseases which also affect the connective tissue in our body. Collagen is a connective tissue which is protein-based and is used as a supporting system in our body. Collagen vascular diseases are actually autoimmune diseases, which develop when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own organs and tissues. Collagen vascular diseases involve the connective tissues. The function of connective tissue is holding the ligaments, bones and muscles together. There are some diseases which come under collagen vascular diseases and which affect our skin, joints, blood vessels and other important organs. Some of the collagen vascular diseases affect only a single organ, whereas some create damage throughout the body. Symptoms depend on the specific disease affecting the patient. There are several collagen vascular diseases such as scleroderma, lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, which affect women more than men. Collagen vascular disease commonly affects adults who are around 30 to 40 years old. However, children who are as young as 14 years can also suffer from this condition.
The existence of collagen vascular diseases has been there for a long time. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a collagen vascular disease which is a chronic inflammatory condition causing joint stiffness and disfigurement. This is an ancient disease and the specific changes in the bones in this disease can be seen in skeletons which are about thousands of years old.
Some of the Collagen Vascular Diseases are:
- Sjogren’s Syndrome: Patient experiences dry eyes, dry mouth and other symptoms.
- Scleroderma: This is a progressive and systemic sclerosis where there is thickening of the skin and formation of tough fibrous tissue in the internal organs, such as heart, digestive tract, kidneys and lungs.
- Dermatomyositis & Polymyositis: These conditions are inflammatory muscle disorders, which can also affect the heart, skin and lungs.
- Mixed Connective Tissue Diseases: These conditions comprise of a combination of symptoms of scleroderma, lupus and polymyositis.
- Polyarteritis Nodosa: This disease causes damage to the arteries, which are small to medium-sized in any organs, such as heart, kidneys and intestines.
Causes of Collagen Vascular Disease
The exact cause of Collagen Vascular Disease is not known. Collagen vascular diseases are sometimes also referred to as connective tissue diseases. These are autoimmune diseases where the body’s self-protection system or immune system mistakenly thinks that its own tissues as foreign body and attacks against itself. The attacks are usually in the form of inflammation. In this case, your immune system causes inflammation in the collagen and nearby joints. Research is still going on the causes of autoimmune diseases where it is found that some of them have strong genetic components and can be inherited from parents. Some environmental factors can also trigger collagen vascular disease. Other potential causes of collagen vascular disease includes stress, fatigue and increased levels of specific antibodies in the body can also cause this disease. Ultraviolet (UV) rays of the sun can also contribute to collagen vascular diseases. Collagen vascular diseases cannot pass from one person to another, i.e. they are not contagious.
Symptoms of Collagen Vascular Disease
Symptoms differ and depend on each different type of collagen vascular disease. Some of the common and general symptoms of collagen vascular disease include:
- Muscle weakness.
- Body aches.
- Skin rash.
- Joint pain.
- Recurrent infections.
- Mouth dryness and ulcers.
- Dry eyes.
- Hair loss.
- Swollen glands.
- Difficulty in swallowing.
- Toes and fingers, which get extremely cold upon exposure to cold temperatures.
Given below are some detailed description and symptoms of Collagen Vascular Diseases:
Lupus: This is a collagen vascular disease which produces unique symptoms in each patient. Some of the common symptoms of this condition include chest pain, shortness of breath, dry eyes and headaches. Patients suffering lupus can have prolonged periods of remission without experiencing any symptoms. There is flare up of symptoms at the time of stress or other triggers, such as after prolonged exposure to sun.
Scleroderma: Scleroderma affects the skin and other organs, including lungs, heart and digestive tract. Symptoms of scleroderma include hardening and thickening of the skin, open sores or rashes. The skin of the patient feels stretched or tight and can also feel lumpy in places. Symptoms of systemic scleroderma consists of wheezing, coughing and difficulty in breathing, acid reflux, diarrhea, joint pain or feet numbness.
Rheumatoid Arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation in the connective tissue resulting in joint pain and stiffness. Other accompanying symptoms of RA include dry mouth and dry eyes. There also can be inflammation of the heart’s lining and blood vessels.
Temporal Arteritis: This type of collagen vascular disease causes inflammation in the large artery present in the head. Symptoms are commonly seen in individuals over the age of 70 and comprise of jaw pain, scalp sensitivity, vision loss and headaches.
Diagnosis of Collagen Vascular Disease
Medical history and physical examination of the patient are done to arrive at the diagnosis of autoimmune diseases. Different types of laboratory tests are also done for diagnosis of collagen vascular diseases including blood tests to check the levels of auto-antibodies, urinalysis, rheumatoid factor tests, blood counts, sedimentation rate, kidney and liver tests all which will provide a nonspecific indicator of inflammation. Lung function tests including chest x-ray will also be done as collagen vascular disease can also cause breathing problems.
Treatment for Collagen Vascular Disease
Treatment for collagen vascular disease depends on the specific collagen vascular disease and also varies according to the patient. Some of the common treatments done for collagen vascular disease comprise of the following:
Immunosuppressants to Treat Collagen Vascular Disease: These medications act by lowering the response of the immune system so that the body stops attacking itself. However, with a decreased immunity, there is an increase in the risk of contracting other conditions and becoming sick. Patients on immunosuppressants need to protect themselves from simple viruses by avoiding contact with family and friends who are suffering from flu or cold.
Corticosteroids for Treating Collagen Vascular Disease: These medicines help in reducing the inflammation in the body and also help in stabilizing the immune system. However, there are major side effects of corticosteroids including mood changes and weight gain. In some patients, there may be an increase in the blood sugar level with corticosteroid medications.
Physical Therapy for Collagen Vascular Disease: Physical therapy comprising of mild and gentle exercises are also beneficial in treating collagen vascular diseases. Doing range of motion exercises help in reducing pain in the muscles and joints and also increase the mobility of the joints.
Prognosis of Collagen Vascular Disease
Prognosis of collagen vascular disease differs from patient to patient and also depends on the specific collagen vascular disease. However, all collagen vascular diseases are autoimmune diseases and are chronic in nature. There is no cure for collagen vascular diseases and the symptoms and the disease needs to be managed throughout the patient’s life. These days, there are many effective treatments available for giving relief to the patient even from severe symptoms.