Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Medications for Scleroderma

The information provided here is meant to give you a general idea about each of the medications listed below. Only the most general side effects are included, so ask your doctor if you need to take any special precautions. Use each of these medications as advised by your doctor, or according to the instructions provided. If you have further questions about usage or side effects, contact your doctor.

There are no medications available to cure or halt the progression of scleroderma. Scleroderma is treated on a symptom-by-symptom basis.

Over-the-counter Medications


Prescription Medications


Disease-modifying Antirheumatic Drugs (DMARDs)

These drugs are given in an effort to slow or halt the progression of scleroderma. While research has yet to prove that these drugs can actually modify scleroderma’s course, they are often given anyway. They are all immunosuppressive agents. Because scleroderma is believed to be caused (at least in part) by an overactive immune system, it is hoped that calming the immune system’s activity will slow scleroderma’s progress.

Non-biological DMARDs may include methotrexate and cyclophosphamide. Biologic DMARDs may include antithymocyte globulin, imatinib, or rituximab

Possible side effects include:


Nonsteroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs)

Although some NSAIDs are available as over-the-counter medications, you may be given a prescription in order to obtain a higher dosage. NSAIDs help reduce inflammation, swelling, and joint pain.

Possible side effects include:

  • Stomach upset
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • Kidney damage
  • Liver inflammation
  • Confusion


Corticosteroids are strong anti-inflammatory agents. They are given to reduce swelling, inflammation, and joint pain.

Possible side effects for short-term use (about 3 weeks or less) include:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Increased appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Increases in blood pressure
  • Increased blood sugar, especially in people with diabetes

Possible side effects for long-term use (about 3 weeks or longer) include:

  • Weakening of the immune system and an increased risk of developing infections
  • Thinning, weak bones—osteoporosis
  • Cataracts, glaucoma
  • Indigestion
  • Swelling in the hand, face, and legs
  • Easy bruising
  • Gastritis

Calcium-channel Blockers

Calcium-channel blockers can reduce the symptoms of Raynaud’s phenomenon by relaxing blood vessels. This allows better blood circulation through the fingers, toes, and the tip of the nose. When exposed to cold, you’ll have less trouble with skin blanching and less numbness and tingling. Use of calcium-channel blockers can reduce the chance of developing sores or ulcers on your fingertips.

Calcium-channel blockers may also be given to treat high blood pressure.

Possible side effects include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Constipation
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Swelling


These medications are used for Raynaud's phenomenon that is not responding to other forms of treatment. They are also used to heal digital ulcerations and to treat pulmonary hypertension associated with scleroderma.

May include bosentan, ambrisentan, or sildenafil

Possible side effects include:

  • Life threatening pulmonary artery pressure changes
  • Liver damage
  • Blood pressure changes

Blood Pressure Medications

Blood pressure medications are given to lower high blood pressure.

May include angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors or calcium-channel blockers.

Possible side effects include:

  • Flushing of the skin
  • Cough
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Jaw pain
  • Fainting


Prostanoids are given to improve circulation of blood.

Possible side effects include:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Dry mouth
  • Cough
  • Lightheadedness
  • Diarrhea or constipation


Antibiotics may be given to help treat the diarrhea of scleroderma, which is often caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.

Possible side effects include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Antibiotic allergic reaction
  • Increased sun sensitivity

H-2 Blockers

H-2 blockers help decrease acid production in the stomach. They may be given to help with heartburn and indigestion.

Possible side effects include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea

Proton Pump Inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors decrease acid production in the stomach. They may be given to help with heartburn, indigestion, and difficulty swallowing.

Possible side effects include:

  • Lightheadedness
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea

Gastrointestinal Stimulants

These medications are given to improve difficulty swallowing.

Possible side effects include:

  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach upset, cramping
  • Headache
  • Lightheadedness
  • Sleepiness

Over-the-Counter Medications



Antacids work to neutralize acidity in the stomach. They’re given to improve symptoms of heartburn and indigestion

Possible side effects include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation

Special Considerations

If you are taking medications, follow these general guidelines:

  • Take the medication as directed. Do not change the amount or the schedule.
  • Ask what side effects could occur. Report them to your doctor.
  • Talk to your doctor before you stop taking any prescription medication.
  • Plan ahead for refills if you need them.
  • Do not share your prescription medication with anyone.
  • Medications can be dangerous when mixed. Talk to your doctor if you are taking more than one medication, including over-the-counter products and supplements.

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Last reviewed November 2016 by Michael Woods, MD  Last Updated: 5/20/2015