WEST Midlands MEP James Carver is helping to promote a month-long campaign to raise awareness about a rare auto-immune disease that claimed the life of his first wife.

The #knowscleroderma campaign aims to promote understanding and early diagnosis of the chronic condition in the build up to Word Scleroderma Day on June 29.

There is no cure for scleroderma, but early diagnosis is crucial as the condition does the most damage within the first three years.

Mr Carver, whose first wife Carmen died nine years ago, said: “Carmen braved the disease with dignity and fortitude and was just 42 when she passed away.

“Scleroderma is a cruel disease in which the immune system becomes overactive and attacks healthy tissue in the body and she bravely faced a lot of pain debilitating effects.

“Carmen fought so hard not to let it take over and to lead a fulfilled and happy life, despite all that she had to endure.”

Hardening of the skin is one of the first noticeable symptoms, caused by the body producing too much collagen, which can affect the skin, joints, tendons and internal organs. It causes scarring and stops the affected parts of the body from functioning normally.

Symptoms of scleroderma vary for each person, and the severity depends greatly on which parts of the body are affected.

Systemic sclerosis is a type of scleroderma which affects the internal organs as well as the skin. The heart, oesophagus, blood vessels, kidneys, lungs, blood pressure and digestive system can all be involved.

Mr Carver, an independent Euro MP, added: “I hope that talking about Carmen and her illness will go some way towards spreading the message more widely – I want nothing more than that other sufferers can get the best opportunity to beat this terrible disease.

“I’m a massive supporter of the charity Scleroderma & Raynaud’s UK – the work they do is fantastic, offering a lifeline to those affected by the disease, and a few years ago I raised £6,000 for them by running the London Marathon.

“I hope to do more fundraising in the future – after Brexit, at the end of my mandate – but for now I’m proud to use my position as an MEP to speak out and help raise awareness.”

New research by SRUK reveals nearly 37 per cent of scleroderma patients polled say they did not get enough information from the hospital about their condition and nearly 49 per cent are not confident that their GP knows enough about their condition.

It is estimated that only one per of the general UK population understand what the condition is and because of this, the charity says sufferers are not getting diagnosed early enough because the signs are not recognised.

There are around 2.5 million sufferers worldwide, with 12,000 people currently living with the disease in the UK.