The autoimmune disease, which affects tissue throughout the body, can lead to scarred lungs

THURSDAY, May 10 (HealthDay News) — A new study finds that black patients with scleroderma have more severe disease complications than whites.

Scleroderma, also called systemic sclerosis, is an autoimmune disease that affects the connective tissues of the skin, muscles and organs.

For the study, published in the May 10 online edition of Arthritis & Rheumatism, researchers looked at data from about 200 black patients and nearly 3,000 white patients treated for scleroderma at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center between 1972 and 2007.

The investigators found that black patients were more likely than white patients to have antibodies that increase the frequency and severity of pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs). Lung disease is the most common cause of scleroderma-related deaths, the researchers noted in a journal news release.

“Our findings confirm that more serious complications affect [black] Americans with systemic sclerosis than [whites],” concluded Dr. Virginia Steen, from Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and colleagues. “For [black] systemic sclerosis patients with severe lung disease, more aggressive treatment early on could improve their outcome,” the authors stated in the news release.

About 49,000 adults in the United States have a diagnosis of scleroderma, which causes collagen to accumulate in the skin and organs. This can lead to skin hardening, joint pain, breathing issues and digestive problems.