What is Morphea?
Morphea is a rare pathological condition of the skin, which is characterized by development of discolored patches on your skin. These patches are not painful and typically appear on the abdomen, trunk, chest and back. In some cases, skin patches due to Morphea may also appear on the arms and legs also. Morphea is a condition which normally affects the superficial or outermost layer of the skin, although in some cases if these patches appear near the joints, the movement of these joints might be impaired.
Morphea is a self limiting condition and resolves on its own in some time, although the chances of recurrence are pretty high and common. Even though Morphea is a self limiting condition and resolves on its own, there are certain medications and therapies available for treatment if discoloration and skin patches do not go on their own. In rare cases, severe eye damage has been reported due to Morphea.
What Causes Morphea?
The exact cause of Morphea is not known yet, but it is believed to be caused due to some abnormality in the immune system. Morphea also tends to be triggered by radiation therapy, which an individual might be undergoing due to some form of cancer, repeated trauma to the affected area, post infections like measles or chickenpox. Morphea is not a contagious disease and does not spread to other people with touch or by any other means.
What are the Symptoms of Morphea?
The symptoms of Morphea are variable and depend on the severity of the condition and how far the disease has progressed. Some of the symptoms of Morphea are:
Reddish patches of skin, which are round to be oval in shape and found at the back, chest, abdomen or trunk. With progression of the disease, these patches form a white colored center, but it does not contain any fluid or pus in it. These patches when present on the extremities are straight and not round. Gradually with time, the skin around the affected area becomes hard and thick.
There is also loss of hair from the affected area due to Morphea. Morphea normally affects the skin and the underlying tissues, but does not go beyond that and only in very rare cases does it affect the bones of the body. Morphea usually lasts for a long time spanning years, but then goes away on its own without any formal treatment even though treatment is available for Morphea, but it leaves behind patches of discolored skin on the affected area which may persist for longer period of time.
How is Morphea Diagnosed?
A visual inspection of the affected area by a dermatologist is good enough along with a history as to when the patches appeared and how long they have been present to pinpoint a diagnosis of Morphea. In some cases, a skin biopsy may be performed to confirm the diagnosis. The skin biopsy will show thickening of the collagen in the dermis confirming the diagnosis of Morphea. Radiological studies like MRI and CT scan can be done to monitor the progression of the disease process and formulate a treatment plan for Morphea.
How to Treat Morphea?
As stated above, Morphea is a self limiting condition and goes away on its own without the need for any treatment even though it may leave behind a scarred skin with discoloration, which may persist for a longer period of time. Even though Morphea may be self limiting, there are some treatments available for treating Morphea. These treatments are:
Phototherapy: This is a special type of therapy, in which the ultraviolet light rays are used to improve the appearance of the skin. This is particularly beneficial if done immediately after the skin discoloration appear.
Antiinflammatories: The physician may prescribe antiinflammatory or immune suppressive medications like methotrexate, which may be used in combination with corticosteroids, but these medications have quite a serious side effect profile and the patient must weigh his or her options carefully before embarking on this form of treatment.
Vitamin D Supplements: Vitamin D in the form of creams may be prescribed to help soften up the skin patches, which have been hardened by Morphea. An improvement in the appearance of the skin can be noted within months of starting the treatment.
Physical Therapy: This is recommended for those patients who have Morphea affecting the joints impairing movement of the joints.