What Causes Morphea Skin Disease?

Morphea is a condition that causes hard and discolored lesions on the skin. It affects the face, neck, hands, legs or torso. It is limited to the skin and very rarely extends to muscles and bones. The skin appears oval, blanched, thickened and hard. It is usually a painless condition and can be itchy in certain cases. It can cause cosmetic deformities. It is a self-limiting condition that settles on its own in three to five years. It can relapse again and again. However, it does not affect the life expectancy of a person.

What Causes Morphea Skin Disease?

What Causes Morphea Skin Disease?

Morphea is a rare skin condition which is characterized by discoloration and hardening of the skin. It affects the skin of the abdomen, chest or back; sometimes involve face, neck, hands, or feet. It is a type of localized scleroderma. It does not extend to internal organs and does not affect them. It settles on its own.

There are no known clear reasons that can cause morphea. It is supposed that immune disease can attack the healthy skin mistaking it as a foreign body. Collagen is found in the skin to provide structural support to the skin. In this disease, the skin gets hard and thickened due to excess production of collagen. It is not contagious and it does not spread with touch or other means.

The causes of Morphea can be-

Immune Disorder– morphea may develop overactivity of the immune system in which it mistakenly considers its own healthy skin as foreign invaders. It can also be associated with multiple autoimmune syndromes in which three or more autoimmune diseases such as autoimmune hypothyroidism, pneumonitis, etc. can be present in the same person at the same time.

Cancer– T cell lymphoma caused by HTLV-1 virus infection can induce morphea. This condition is characterized by high levels of calcium in the blood that causes bone and skin lesions in the body.

Trauma– any trauma or injury to the skin can induce morphea.

Genetics– some genetic alterations may trigger the development of morphea in the skin. It may run in families affecting both adults and children.

Infections– some infections caused by Lyme borreliosis, HTLV-1 or Toxoplasma gondii can cause morphea. Lyme borreliosis causes lichen sclerosis or B cell lymphoma that can contribute to the occurrence of morphea. HTLV-1 infection causes T-cell lymphoma. Toxoplasma gondii can cause morphea.

Radiation– radiation therapy done for cancer treatment may induce symptoms of mimicking malignancy. It may induce hardening of the skin resulting in morphea. However, post-irradiation morphea is unusual and rare.

Medicines– valproic acid and some other medicines can induce the disease. It is supposed that intramuscular vaccination may cause hardening of skin at the site of vaccination.

Symptoms Of Morphea

Morphea affects the skin– the skin becomes thickened and hardened. The skin shows oval patches whose outer edge is iliac and inner patch is in red color. The skin turns white or yellow towards the center. This appearance and its severity depending on the types of morphea.

Plaque Morphea– it is the commonest type of morphea that causes three or four lesions. They are painless and itchy in certain cases.

Generalized Plaque Morphea– it causes widespread large lesions that join together. They extend to deep tissues and may cause disfigurement.

Pansclerotic Morphea– it is fast progressive morphea that involves the skin of the entire body except for hands and feet. It is treated with aggressive medical intervention.

Linear Morphea– it spreads as a single band and seen in leg, or arm or forehead as discolored or hardened skin. It is the most common type in school children and it may extend to muscles and bones causing deformities.


Morphea is a rare skin lesion marked by discoloration and hardening. Its exact causes are not known. The factors that can trigger morphea are autoimmunity, radiation, medicines, abnormal genes, infections, and cancer.

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Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Pramod Kerkar, M.D., FFARCSI, DA Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:June 29, 2019
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