Collagen vascular disease, also known as connective tissue disease, is a group of autoimmune diseases that attack the connective tissues in the body that hold muscles, ligaments, and bones together. It can also affect joints, skin, blood vessels, and organs.
There are Several Types of Collagen Vascular Diseases
When answering the question “what is collagen vascular disease?” it’s important to note that it’s not a single disease but a collection of autoimmune diseases and syndromes. Some are genetic (inherited).
Lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and Sjögren (pronounced “showgren”) syndrome are types of autoimmune collagen vascular diseases. Genetic forms include Marfan’s syndrome, osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, which has 13 types with subtypes.
Women are diagnosed more often than men. Most occur in people in their 30s and 40s, although teenagers have been diagnosed as well.
Most Collagen Vascular Disease Symptoms Include Fatigue, Aches, and Rashes
Not surprisingly, collagen vascular disease symptoms have a pretty wide range. My observation is that these symptoms have this in common: patients feel like they have a bad, extended case of flu.
Typical symptoms include:
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain
Fever is the strongest hint that something has tripped the immune system.
It’s the length of feeling awful, with the addition of unfamiliar symptoms that will send most people to the doctor or even the emergency room. These alarming symptoms help doctors with diagnosing and treating patients.
For example, lupus symptoms include ulcers in the mouth, hair loss, a butterfly-shaped rash on the face, and a raised rash called discoid that appears on the back, chest, head, or arms.
Since women account for about 90% of cases, according to the Lupus Foundation, doctors knowledgeable about autoimmune diseases will suspect this in female patients with these symptoms as well as the “typical” ones listed above. They also know patients of color are two to three times more likely to have lupus than caucasian women.
Scleroderma symptoms are similarly alarming to patients and include open sores that won’t heal; patches of taut, dark, and shiny skin; and thickened skin.
On the other hand, vaginal dryness is a symptom of Sjögren and isn’t that unusual by itself. Many women experience this once in a while. Most will try to treat it on their own with a visit to the pharmacy personal care aisle.
Some genetic forms of collagen vascular disease are diagnosed as the patient develops and grows. Classic symptoms of Marfan’s syndrome include large, flat feet; long, thin fingers; loose joints; caved-in chest, crowded teeth; and lens dislocation in one or both eyes.
There are eight types of OI, or brittle bone disease. Symptoms are often noticed in childhood such as multiple bone breaks, bowed legs and arms, weak teeth, scoliosis, and bluish color in the whites of the eyes.
Are There Collagen Vascular Disease Treatments?
Collagen vascular disease treatments often include immunosuppressants and corticosteroids. Immunosuppressants calm down the immune system to stop it from attacking connective tissue, and corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications that relieve pain.
Other treatments include joint replacement, physical therapy to maintain mobility and ease the pain, and lifestyle changes.
Some autoimmune diseases lead to uterine fibroids, a painful condition that includes heavy and prolonged menstrual periods; abdominal or lower back pain, and urine leakage. Palm Vascular Centers treats provides uterine fibroid embolization, a minimally invasive procedure that shrinks and softens fibroids and destroys excess fibrous tissue.
Living with a collagen vascular disease is stressful, which in turn aggravates the immune system so learning coping skills like meditation can be extremely helpful. Many people get relief with light exercises like dancing and swimming.