Scleroderma is a rare autoimmune disease in which the body produces excess collagen. This causes the skin to get thick and tight in patches throughout the body, which can also cause other symptoms, ranging from stiff and sore joints to shortness of breath, as well as problems with the digestive tract. In cases where the digestive tract is affected, patients are at risk for complications known as CREST syndrome. Treatments for the syndrome are typically focused on the specific symptoms it causes, which may include skin care treatments from a dermatologist

The Causes and Symptoms of CREST Syndrome

CREST syndrome is an acronym for five different conditions linked to scleroderma:

  • Calcinosis: This particular condition involves calcium deposits in the connective tissues that can cause pain and inflammation.
  • Reynaud's phenomenon: Fingers and toes begin to turn white, then blue and numb in response to cold, anxiety, or stress.
  • Esophageal dysfunction: Symptoms of this condition include trouble swallowing, heart burn, acid reflux, and even scarring of the esophagus.
  • Sclerodactyly: This condition leads to tightness and thickening in the skin of the fingers and toes, making it difficult to bend and move them.
  • Telangiectasia: Dilated blood vessels cause red spots on the upper body, head, and face.

CREST syndrome does not affect everyone with scleroderma, nor do all patients experience every condition. However, certain people, including females of Black and Indigenous American descent or a family history of CREST syndrome, are more vulnerable. Environmental factors, including exposure to certain chemicals, can also increase the risk of experiencing any of these conditions.

CREST Syndrome Complications


Untreated CREST syndrome can increase the likelihood of developing serious complications, including kidney disease and cancer. However, in most cases, symptoms and complications are related to the specific condition. For example, the red spots caused by telangiectasia may bleed, and require laser treatment from a dermatologist.  Raynaud's phenomenon and calcinosis can also cause skin ulcers, which require prompt treatment to prevent infections.

Managing and Treating CREST Syndrome 

Managing the symptoms of CREST syndrome is entirely dependent on the conditions present and the symptoms they cause. Dermatologists are part of the scleroderma care team and may prescribe medication or skin care treatments to manage symptoms.  For example, because scleroderma destroys sweat and oil glands in the skin, dermatologists prescribe gentle cleansing and moisturizing regimens to help reduce stiffness and dryness. 


If you've been diagnosed with scleroderma and have symptoms of CREST syndrome, make an appointment at Kailua Dermatology Associates in Kailua, HI. The dermatologists at this respected Oahu practice are experienced in providing advanced treatments for CREST as well as other skin conditions, including eczema, skin cancer, and more. To make an appointment, call (808) 261-6133  or visit the website for more information about the practice.