More than 200 disorders can affect a person’s connective tissues. This is the material inside the body that supports many body parts. The National Institutes of Health calls connective tissue “the cellular glue that gives your tissues their strength and helps keep them strong.” They are made up of proteins including elastin and collagen. Two examples of connective tissue are fat and cartilage. Some of these disorders are thought to be genetic, while others have no known cause. They can be caused by autoimmune malfunction or other illnesses. Infections can cause connective tissue disorders including cellulitis. Injuries can also damage connective tissue, resulting in scars.
Examples of these disorders are: mixed connective tissue disease, myositis, polymyositis/dermatomyositis, primary antiphospholipid syndrome, Raynaud’s phenomenon, scleroderma and Sjogren’s syndrome. There are many different features and symptoms of a connective tissue disorder. Some diseases share common symptoms, making the diagnosis of a specific rheumatic condition difficult. Some of them include: pain, inflammation, swelling, muscle weakness, arthritis, fatigue, fever, weight loss, sores in the mouth, rash, eye problems, dry mouth, enlarged lymph nodes, allergies, asthma, heart palpitations, chest pains, curvature of the spine, sunken chest (pectus excavatum), barrel chest (pectus carinatum), bruising, nosebleeds, heavy periods, noise sensitivity, double jointedness, vertigo, muscle twitches and tics, back pain, migraines, irritable bowel syndrome, loose fragile skin, insomnia, itching, sensitive skin, sciatica, neck pain, anxiety, muscle cramps, shortness of breath, history of blood clots, gastrointestinal issues, obsessive compulsive disorder and tinnitus.
Diagnosing a connective tissue disorder may involve visits to more than one doctor and a battery of tests. Physicians will likely take into account family history and medical history before performing physical exams and lab tests. The management and treatment of individual connective tissue disorders vary based on the actual disorder and its progression. To be sure, many of these connective tissue disorders involve pain and long-term suffering. Some of them can be treated effectively but many spend years searching for relief.
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