Scleroderma is a chronic condition that causes inflammation and thickening of the skin. The cause of scleroderma is not known. Researchers have found some evidence that genes are important factors, but the environment seems to also play a role. This means that inheritance at least play a partial role. It is not unusual to find other autoimmune diseases in families of scleroderma patients. Some evidence for the role genes may play in leading to the development of scleroderma comes from the study of Choctaw Native Americans who are the group with the highest reported prevalence of the disease. The disease is more frequent in females than in males.
A common area of involvement of this condition is the skin over the tips of the elbows (the olecranon area). When this skin is involved, it can lead to troublesome irritation of the tips of the elbows with tenderness noted when any pressure is applied.
Recently, I saw a patient in a follow up visit who is a veterinarian with scleroderma with this particular complication. We had been treating the condition with a variety of topical lubricants and emollients, but to no avail. She returned at this visit to tell me of a surprisingly successful treatment that she had found on her own.
Bagbalm is a cream that has been used for decades to ease the irritation of the teats of hard-working milk cows. As a veterinarian, she was aware of this application and decided to use it regularly over the tender areas of her elbows. Over 3 weeks she began to notice significant softening of the tissue and remarkable improvement of the tenderness.
I have since found bagbalm helpful in others with similar complications from scleroderma. Bagbalm is not marketed to doctors, but is readily available in pharmacies without a prescription.
Klippel, J.H., et al. Primer on the Rheumatic Diseases. New York: Springer, 2008.