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How Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy Can Support Scleroderma Patients



Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may offer relief to patients suffering with Scleroderma by boosting oxygen delivery, reducing inflammation, decreasing fibrosis, and encouraging new blood vessels.

Scleroderma, also known as systemic sclerosis, is a challenging condition that affects the skin and sometimes internal organs. It leads to skin thickening and hardening, which can be quite uncomfortable. Fortunately, there's a treatment option that might offer some relief: hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT).
Let's dive into how HBOT can help support those living with scleroderma.

What Is Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy?

HBOT involves breathing pure oxygen in a specially designed chamber where the air pressure is increased to about twice that of normal atmospheric pressure. This process allows more oxygen to dissolve in the blood, which can then be delivered to tissues that need it most.

How Can HBOT Help Scleroderma Patients?

Boosting Oxygen Delivery:

HBOT can significantly increase the amount of oxygen in the blood. For scleroderma patients, this means better oxygen delivery to tissues, which can help heal skin ulcers and other areas suffering from poor blood flow.

Reducing Inflammation:

Scleroderma involves a lot of inflammation. HBOT can help by reducing the levels of inflammatory substances in the body, potentially easing some of the symptoms.

Decreasing Fibrosis:

One of the hallmarks of scleroderma is excessive scarring or fibrosis. HBOT might help reduce this scarring by altering the behavior of cells that produce collagen, the main component of scar tissue.

Encouraging New Blood Vessels:

HBOT can stimulate the growth of new blood vessels, improving circulation in areas affected by scleroderma. This can be particularly helpful in healing chronic wounds and improving overall tissue health.

When Is HBOT Recommended for Scleroderma Patients?

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is recommended for scleroderma patients in several specific situations:

Healing Ulcers:

Many scleroderma patients suffer from painful ulcers on their fingers and toes due to poor blood circulation. HBOT can help these wounds heal faster and reduce pain.

Fighting Soft Tissue Infections:

Because scleroderma can compromise skin integrity, infections are a risk. HBOT can enhance the body's ability to fight these infections by boosting oxygen levels and supporting the immune system.

Easing Raynaud’s Phenomenon:

Some scleroderma patients experience Raynaud’s phenomenon, where fingers and toes turn white or blue in response to cold or stress. While not a primary treatment, HBOT can help by improving blood flow and reducing the severity of these episodes.

What Does the Science Say?

While research is still ongoing, some studies suggest that HBOT can be beneficial for scleroderma patients, especially in healing wounds and reducing pain. However, more extensive research is needed to develop standardized treatment protocols. Here is a list of studies that are available:

Final Thoughts

While HBOT isn’t a cure for scleroderma, it can be a helpful part of a comprehensive treatment plan, especially for managing complications from the disease like ulcers and infections. If you or someone you know is living with scleroderma, it’s worth discussing HBOT with your healthcare provider to see if it might be a good fit for your treatment plan.
Remember, every patient is unique, and working closely with your medical team can help you find the best strategies to manage your condition. Stay positive, stay informed, and take proactive steps towards better health!

Written by Alan Katz, MD, FUHM, FACEP, FAAEM

Dr. Alan Katz, National Medical Director of Hyperbaric Medical Solutions (HMS), is double board certified in Emergency Medicine and Hyperbaric Medicine. He directs clinical operations, as well as education and research initiatives for HMS, particularly in exploring the use of hyperbaric oxygen therapy....

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