Your body is held together by tissues that connect all of the structures in your body. When you have a connective tissue disease, these connecting structures are negatively affected. Connective tissue diseases include autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and lupus.
A connective tissue disease is any disease that affects the parts of the body that connect the structures of the body together.
Connective tissues are made up of two proteins: collagen and elastin. Collagen is a protein found in the tendons, ligaments, skin, cornea, cartilage, bone and blood vessels. Elastin is a stretchy protein that resembles a rubber band and is the major component of ligaments and skin. When a patient has a connective tissue disease, the collagen and elastin are inflamed. The proteins and the body parts they connect are harmed.
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There are more than 200 different types of connective tissue diseases. They may be inherited, caused by environmental factors, or most often, are of unknown cause. Connective tissue diseases include, but are not limited to:
These conditions can be caused by family genetics and are often known as heritable disorders of connective tissue. Connective tissue diseases can also be caused by things that exist in the environment. Non-inherited causes of autoimmune types of connective tissue disease may include:
Because there are so many different kinds of connective tissue diseases, symptoms may vary and may affect different parts of the body. Body parts that may be affected include:
Your doctor may order various tests depending on what type of connective tissue disorder is suspected. The doctor will first ask for your medical history, a family history, and will do a physical examination. Further tests may include:
Because there are so many different types of connective tissue disorders, the treatments will vary depending on the person and the disease. Treatments might include vitamin supplements, physical therapy, and medications. You will probably have a regular schedule of appointments with your doctor. You might be asked to consult with specialists, such as eye doctors or dermatologists, depending on what type of connective tissue disorder you have.
You may be able to prevent exposures to toxins, and you are able to eat healthy foods that meet your vitamin and nutrient needs. However, you cannot prevent diseases that are inherited.
The outlook for people with connective tissue diseases is different for everyone. The outlook depends on what type of disease you have, whether or not you get treatment, and how effective the treatment is. Some types of connective tissue diseases may have relatively minor consequences, and some can be fatal (if they affect the lungs, kidneys or heart.) Some types of these diseases are painful, while others have more mild symptoms.
You may be asked to make some lifestyle changes. Also, you may be asked to get vaccines for the flu or vaccine for pneumonia (when your connective tissue disease is in remission).
You should contact your healthcare provider if you have new or worsening symptoms, including:
You should keep the schedule of appointments that your healthcare provider suggests.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/16/2019.
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