A connective tissue disorder is one that affects the tissues in the body that connect the structures of the body together.
Collagen and elastin are the two proteins that make up connective tissue. Collagen is found in the tendons, skin, cornea, cartilage, blood vessels, ligaments and bone. Elastin is a stretchy component of ligaments and skin. When a patient has a connective tissue disorder, the elastin and collagen — the main parts of the connective tissue — are inflamed, harming them and the body parts they connect.
Among the connective tissue disorders, many involve some layer of the skin. Some of the more dermatologically affected disorders and their symptoms are:
- Scleroderma is largely a skin disorder. It is an autoimmune condition in which normal skin tissue is replaced by fibrous scar tissue. It can affect many other parts of the body as well, including internal organs, the GI tract and small blood vessels. Women are affected more often than men.
- Lupus is also a connective tissue disorder that affects the skin. In lupus, the immune system attacks tissues in various parts of the body instead of protecting it, leading to various types of damage in the body’s tissues. A common symptom of lupus is a red rash on the cheeks and bridge of the patients’ nose. Additionally, other skin problems may occur, including large red, circular plaques, or rashes, which may scar. In lupus, sunlight typically aggravates skin rashes. There may also be complications of hair loss and mouth sores.
- Dermatomyositis is a condition where the body’s immune system stops working well and begins attacking otherwise healthy tissues. It is part of a condition called polymyositis, an inflammatory muscle disease; when it affects the skin, it is called dermatomyositis. Symptoms of this condition vary from person to person. The disease may be present asymptomatically for months or years. Symptoms include muscle weakness; a red rash on the face, neck or other parts of the upper body; swelling and discoloration around the eyes; red, scaly skin on the knuckles, elbows and knees; purple spots on knuckles and other bony areas; ragged cuticles and prominent blood vessels on nail folds; and hard lumps of calcium deposits developing in the fatty layer of the skin.