Morphea is an uncommon skin condition. It causes reddish and purplish spots to appear, usually on the skin of the abdomen, chest and the back, but it can occasionally affect the skin on the face, arms and legs also. It affects the dermis (the outmost layer of the skin) and the superficial fatty tissue beneath. Morphea resembles scleroderma. Actually, it is a limited form of scleroderma which is a condition that can bring to series of problems such as: discolouration of the skin, difficult movement of the joints and muscles as well as other connective tissue. Moprhea usually disappears over time. However, it can affect a person’s appearance and confidence. Therefore a doctor can prescribe medications or suggest other treatments that will help improve the appearance of the skin and symptoms of morphea.
Symptoms of morphea are:
- Hard and thick skin
- Discolouration-the skin looks lighter or darker than the rest of the skin area
- Oval patches that may change colour and linear patches especially on the arms and legs
- Loss of hair and sweat glands in the affected parts over time
Morphea usually lasts for several years and subsides on its own, but it can leave marks of darker and discoloured spots on the skin.
If any of the symptoms are noticed, it is good to see a doctor, because as earlier the diagnosis is defined, the earlier the treatment will begin, what can slow down the development of the patches and possible complications will be treated before they get worse.
It is known for sure that morphea is not contagious, but the precise reason that causes morphea to form is still unknown. It is believed that morphea develops after an unusual reaction of the immune system. The beginning of the development of moprhea is associated with: radiation therapy, recent infection (as measles and chickenpox) or repeated trauma to the affected skin part.
Although it is difficult to state who is at higher risk to develop, because the exact cause is still unknown, there are several factors that can increase the risk:
- Gender-more common among women
- Race-more common among white people and people of Asian descent
Number of complications that can result from morphea are:
- Lack of self-confidence
- Movement difficulties (weak joints)
- Generalized morphea-numerous hard and discoloured patches joined together that cover wide skin area
Morphea can disappear with time without treatment. There is no known cure or proven treatment. Doctors usually suggest a mild topical corticosteroid cream. However, it is important for a patient to consider the benefits and risks of the treatment before accepting it, as most of the treatments have side effects. The treatments of morphea can be:
- Corticosteroids-topically or orally taken medications that prevent thickening of the collagen and decrease inflammation (side effects of oral corticosteroids: infection, high blood pressure, bone loss and fluid retention)
- Calcipotriene cream-synthetic form of vitamin D that lessens the morphea effects (possible side effects: burning, stinging and rash)
- Antimalarial drugs-reduce inflammation and slow down the progression of morphea (side effects: headache, dizziness, diarrhea and cramps in the abdomen)
- Immunosuppressive medications-control the immune system and reduce inflammation (serious side effects: infections, kidney problems, liver problems and high blood pressure)
- Light therapy-treatment with ultraviolet light
- Physical therapy-stretching and strengthening exercises to improve joint mobility
Moprhea dries out the skin, therefore it is recommendable to use moisturizers for the skin and avoid long and hot showers.
Makeup and topical treatment can help hide the morpheme patches on visible places such as the face, arms and legs and make the person feel better.