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Morphea: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment of this Rare Disease

Morphea Attorneys

Morphea is a rare condition also known as localized scleroderma. It is a disease characterized by patches of red or purple skin that appear mainly on the torso, arms, and legs. Since morphea is a form of scleroderma, it can cause potential problems including simple skin discoloration, or become as severe as damaging internal organs. It affects all age ranges, but is more predominant in women than men. A major concern for patients is the outward appearance that morphea gives, making it difficult to keep the disease under wraps.

Morphea is a rare condition also known as localized scleroderma. It is a disease characterized by patches of red or purple skin that appear mainly on the torso, arms, and legs. Since morphea is a form of scleroderma, it can cause potential problems including simple skin discoloration, or become as severe as damaging internal organs. It affects all age ranges, but is more predominant in women than men. A major concern for patients is the outward appearance that morphea gives, making it difficult to keep the disease under wraps.

Causes of Morphea

Not enough information is known about the causes of morphea to directly accuse risk factors that could lead to the development of the disease (Morphea, Kendra G. Bergstrom, M.D., Staff Physician, Ronald O. Perelman Department of Dermatology, New York University School of Medicine, August 3, 2006). It is believed that the immune system has a role in causing the disease, but is yet to be classified as an autoimmune disorder. Radiation therapy has been explored as a possible cause of morphea, as well as repeated trauma to a particular area has also been entertained. None of these possibilities have undergone enough investigation to be solid evidence for the disease formation.

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Diagnosis of Morphea

Since morphea is a form of localized scleroderma (which literally means “hardening of the skin”), obvious signs and symptoms of the disease include (Handout on Health: Scleroderma; National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, National Institutes of Health):

  • Hardening of affected skin
  • Thickening of affected skin
  • Skin discoloration
  • Muscle weakness

In most cases, morphea is localized to the outer skin layer, but in severe cases can actually penetrate to connective tissue under the skin. A dermatologist can diagnosis the disease by collecting information on a physical examination, as well as performing a tissue biopsy to look for hardening of collagen under the skin, a substance that helps make normal skin elastic in nature.

Treatment of Morphea

There is no cure for morphea, but treatment options are available to control the symptoms produced by the disease. One such treatment is the use of corticosteroids, which can help reduce the inflammation of skin tissue. Certain anti-malarial drugs have also been used to reduce inflammation and slow the progression of the disease.

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Physical therapy can help through the use of stretching exercises that can improve mobility of affected joints. Strengthening exercises are also used to promote range of motion of joints and muscles. Swimming is often used as a form of physical therapy for patients with morphea.

Morphea requires lifestyle modifications in order to deter progression of the disease, as well as help patients feel more comfortable with outward appearances. The use of makeup can help hide discolored skin, and the use of sunscreen to protect affected skin areas from further damage. Moisturizers can also aid in giving skin a better feel, as sometimes skin can become “woody” or scaly in appearance. Simple changes can make living with morphea easier and it can actually fade within three to five years of its onset.

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