Morphea

1 What is Morphea?

A rare skin condition that causes painless and discolored patches on your skin is called Morphea (mor-FEE-uh). The skin changes appear on the back, chest and abdomen mostly but they may also appear on your arms, face and legs and affects the outermost layer of the skin.

In some cases, it also restricts the movements in the joints.

Recurrences are common but mostly it subsides on its own over time.

There are medications and therapies that can help treat this skin condition.

2 Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of morphea vary depending on the stage and type of condition.

These symptoms include:

  • Patches that gradually develop a whitish or lighter center,
  • purplish or reddish oval patches of skin mostly on the chest, back or abdomen,
  • linear patches in the legs and arms,
  • loss of hair and sweat glands in the affected area,
  • change in the affected skin that becomes thickened, hard, shiny and dry.

Sometimes morphea affects the bone but mostly the skin and underlying tissue and it will lasts for several years and then just disappear on its own. Morphea may leave patches of discolored or darkened skin. Once you see the symptoms visit your doctor right away because early diagnosis and treatment may help slow the development on new patches.

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3 Causes

There are unknown causes of morphea, some may be due to unusual reaction of the immune system or may be triggered by:

Morphea is not contagious.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Visit your doctor if you are bothered by your skin changes and he may diagnose morphea by examining the affected skin and asking you about your signs and symptoms.

He may refer you to a dermatologist that specializes in skin disorders or rheumatologist that specializes in muscles, bones and joints diseases. Here are some of the things you might want to do before the visit.

Bring a notebook and make s list of all the symptoms that you are having, also list down the vitamins, supplements and medications that you are taking.

Here are some of the questions that you might want to ask:

  • What’s the cause of my symptoms?
  • Do I need to undergo any tests?
  • How long will it last?
  • Are there any treatments available?
  • What are the side effects of these treatments?
  • Will this come back again after it is gone?
  • I have other conditions, how can I manage them both?
  • What can I do to improve my appearance?
  • What websites do you recommend?

Your doctor will likely ask you questions such as:

  • When did you first notice the symptoms?
  • Have this happened before?
  • Are they consistent or occasional?
  • What steps have you taken to treat this condition?
  • Did it help or it became worse?
  • Have you ever been treated for this before?
  • Do you have difficulty swallowing or chewing?

Your doctor may use skin biopsy that will get a small sample of the affected skin. The skin biopsy may reveal changes in your skin such as thickening of the collagen – a protein that makes up your connective tissue including your skin that helps make your skin elastic and resilient – in the dermis which is the second layer of the skin.

Even if the symptoms are not factors of systemic scleroderma, your doctor will still refer you to a dermatologist or rheumatologist. If your child has neck and head morphea, ask for a comprehensive eye exam because it may cause unnoticeable yet irreversible eye damage. MRI or magnetic resonance imaging and ultrasound may be done too to see if the treatment is responding.

5 Treatment

Though it may leave scars or areas of discolored skin, morphea usually goes away without treatment.

You may want to have a treatment that helps you control the signs and symptoms.

These treatments are:

  • light therapy that uses ultraviolet light or phototherapy that may improve your skin’s condition,
  • medicines that fight inflammation; immunosuppressive medication such as oral methotrexate (Trexall, Rheumatrex) that may be used in combination with corticosteroid pills for the first few months but these have side effects,
  • cream calcipotriene that has vitamin D that may soften the skin patches but have burning, rash and stinging for side effects,
  • physical therapy to maintain movement and prevents joint deformity.

6 Prevention

There is no known prevention for morphea.

7 Alternative and Homeopathic Remedies

Consult with your physician before starting any alternative remedies for morphea.

An oral medication that has been used to treat morphea is Para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), but still it hasn't been proved to reduce skin symptoms in clinical trials.

8 Lifestyle and Coping

Lifestyle modifications are necessary in order to cope with morphea.

Moisturizers may help soften the skin and improves the skin, avoid long hot baths because it will dry your skin.

It may be a difficult condition for you because it affects your appearance.

If you want to seek support or do counseling, ask your doctor if he may refer you to a mental health professional or find a support group in your area.

9 Risks and Complications

There are several risks and complications associated with morphea.

The risk factors of morphea may include:

  • age: that usually appears between the ages of 2 and 14 or in the mid-40's,
  • sex: females are likely to get this than males,
  • your race most likely to Caucasians.

Some of the complications that can happen are:

  • movement problems because it affects the legs and arms joint mobility,
  • self-esteem issues because of the discolored patches of skin on your legs, face and arms,
  • eye damage, usually with kids that have neck and head morphea and may leave a permanent eye damage,
  • widespread areas of hardened discolored skin or generalized morphea.
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