Encompassing more than 200 specific disorders, connective tissue diseases are conditions affecting tissues that deliver essential nutrients to various organs throughout the body, including the skin. Such tissues include cartilage, fat, and bone. Connective tissue diseases often affect kidneys, lungs, the heart, blood vessels, and the GI (gastrointestinal) tract.
The result of genetic changes, inherited connective tissue diseases are considered rare. With symptoms ranging from mild to severe, such conditions tend to run in families and are rarely random in occurrence or influenced by outside factors.
Connective tissue disorders that are categorized as autoimmune disorders often have possible contributing factors, but no clear cause, as is the case with rheumatoid arthritis. Disorders of this nature may be triggered by environmental and lifestyle factors. Examples of autoimmune connective tissue diseases include:
The causes of connective tissue disease are thought to be as diverse as the various types of connective tissue disease. In fact, there are more than 200 different types of the disorder. While scientists are able to understand distinct connections, associations, and risk factors relating to connective tissue disease, true understanding surrounding the causes of connective tissue disease remains a mystery.
There is a definitive and direct link between connective tissue disease and autoimmune disorders. The immune system of an individual with connective tissue disease fights the very tissue structures which help to the human body healthy and alive. Doctors believe that the immune system might react in this way due to certain genetic vulnerabilities. When certain individuals who are born more susceptible to developing issues with the immune system encounter particular environmental triggers, connective tissue disease may occur. However, while scientists are aware of these connections, they’re not entirely clear on the specifics – the exact environmental triggers, or the exact genes which might cause someone to develop the disease.
Inherited connective tissue disease is quite rare, but it does occur. In some cases, connective tissue disease may be caused by an infection – such as in the case of cellulitis – or by an injury.
Diagnosis depends on the specific condition, but generally includes image testing since soft tissues are involved with all disorders classified as a connective tissue disease.
Treatment is also specific to condition. In many cases, the focus is on management of symptoms rather than a “cure” of the disease.
Preventative measures, if applicable, depend on the specific condition. Autoimmune diseases, in particular, tend to be more responsive to dietary and lifestyle changes and the modification of certain activities, with RA being an example of a connective tissue disease that often responds well to such adjustments.
Connective tissue disease isn’t necessarily preventable. In cases of connective tissue disease which are linked to genetics and an autoimmune disorder, there is no proven form of prevention for the disease. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help to reduce the likelihood of a person developing connective tissue disease. Avoiding cigarette smoke and keeping a healthy weight can improve one’s immune system, thus potentially preventing connective tissue disease.
In other cases, such as in the case of cellulitis, it may actually be possible to prevent connective tissue disease. When the disease is caused by an infection or injury, treating the infection or injury without delay may impede any potential spreading to the rest of the body. In cases such as these, the development of connective tissue disease may be prevented.