Definition

What is morphea?

Morphea is a skin condition that involves a patch or patches of discolored or hardened skin on the face, neck, hands, torso, or feet. Morphea predominately affects your skin. It doesn’t involve your internal organs. In most cases, it resolves on its own, but you can experience a relapse. More severe forms can lead to cosmetic deformities, and it occasionally affects the muscle, joints, or bone.

How common is morphea?

The condition is rare and thought to affect less than 3 out of 100,000 people. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of morphea?

The common symptoms of morphea are:

  • Reddish or purplish oval patches of skin, often on the abdomen, chest or back
  • Patches that gradually develop a lighter or whitish center
  • Linear patches, especially when on the arms or legs
  • A gradual change in the affected skin, which becomes hard, thickened, dry and shiny
  • Loss of hair and sweat glands in the affected area over time

Morphea usually affects only the skin and underlying tissue and, rarely, bone. The condition generally lasts several years and then disappears on its own. But it usually leaves some patches of darkened or discolored skin.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes morphea?

The exact cause of morphea isn’t yet known. It’s thought to be an immune disorder, meaning that the immune system is attacking the skin. The collagen-producing cells might become overactive and overproduce collagen.

Collagen is a protein normally found in skin that helps provide structural support. With too much collagen, your skin becomes hard. Morphea may be triggered by radiation therapy, repeated trauma to your skin, environmental exposure, or an infection.

Morphea isn’t contagious, so you can’t get it from or spread it by touching someone else.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for morphea?

There are many risk factors for morphea, such as:

  • Your sex and age. Females are more likely to develop morphea than are males. The condition can affect people at any age. It usually appears between the ages of 2 and 14 or in the mid-40s.
  • Your race. Morphea is more prevalent among Caucasians.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is morphea diagnosed?

Your doctor may diagnosis morphea by examining the affected skin and asking you about your signs and symptoms. He or she may take a small sample of the affected skin (skin biopsy) for examination in the laboratory. This may reveal changes in your skin, such as thickening of the collagen in the second layer of skin (dermis). Collagen is a protein that makes up your connective tissues, including your skin. It helps make your skin elastic and resilient.

It’s important to distinguish morphea from systemic scleroderma, so if you have morphea, your doctor will likely refer you to a specialist in skin disorders (dermatologist) or diseases of the joints, bones and muscles (rheumatologist).

If your child has head and neck morphea, take him or her in for regular comprehensive eye exams, as morphea may cause unnoticeable yet irreversible eye damage.

Ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be useful in monitoring disease progression and how it is responding to treatment.

How is morphea treated?

There is no cure for morphea. Type of treatment depends on the type of morphea and how severe it is. Current treatment is aimed at controlling symptoms until the morphea goes away on its own, typically within five years. For more limited morphea , treatment is considered optional and may include:

  • Phototherapy (light therapy using artificial ultraviolet light)
  • A vitamin D cream called calcipotriene (Dovonex)

For more generalized or quickly progressive types of morphea, doctors may recommend oral medications such as methotrexate or high-dose steroids.

At home, you can apply moisturizers to help soften your skin. Try to avoid long, hot showers or anything that can dry out your skin. Other treatments include:

  • Applying sunscreen before going outside
  • Avoiding harsh soaps and chemicals on your skin
  • Using a humidifier to add moisture to the air, particularly during winter
  • Exercising regularly to improve blood circulation

In more severe cases, including lesions that cause disfigurement or joint problems, more aggressive therapy might be needed to help fight inflammation and prevent deformities, including:

  • Corticosteroids
  • Methotrexate
  • Physical therapy

Children with morphea on their head and neck should see an ophthalmologist, a specialist in eye problems, for regular eye exams.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage morphea?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with morphea:

Because morphea dries the affected skin, moisturizers may help soften and improve the feel of your skin. It’s a good idea to avoid long, hot showers or baths, as these can dry your skin.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Review Date: November 24, 2017 | Last Modified: November 24, 2017

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