Morphea is a disorder of the skin that causes an outbreak of dark red patches. These patches mostly appear on the arms, legs and chest. Anyone can be affected by morphea but it is more common in women. Morphea is also known as localised scleroderma, which causes the thickening of skin and veins due excess deposits of collagen. Scleroderma not only affects the skin but also internal organs, but Morphea is limited to the outer layers of skin.
Morphea is a localised version of scleroderma, which means "hard skin." Morphea causes the hardening and thickening of skin in different patterns. The part of the affected skin has a darker colour than the surrounding area. Initially it may be red, purple or yellow in colour. With time, the affected areas may appear brown and eventually turn white. If morphea affects the area of skin on or around the joints, it may hinder the mobility of these joints.
No particular causes of morphea have yet been substantiated. There is evidence that morphea is caused by etiologic agents (viruses, bacteria, toxins). The condition is believed to occur when the immune system reacts to some external stimuli. Patients who have undergone radiation therapy have been reported to suffer from morphea as a side effect.
Since the cause of morphea is not known, there is no particular medicine for directly treating the condition. The treatment that patients do receive focuses on dealing with the symptoms of morphea and preventing the condition from spreading or worsening. Different medications can be used: to stop the collagen from thickening, and to control the immune system. If the condition becomes too prolonged or troublesome, plastic surgery can also be an option.
Although morphea usually affects the limbs and chest area, it can sometimes extend to the face. People with morphea outbreaks on the face can have a tough time maintaining their self-esteem. Morphea is a chronic condition and outbreaks may appear at any time without any apparent reason. Consistent outbreaks can cause the skin to become permanently hardened and discoloured. One out of five patients of morphea suffers from limited joint mobility and requires physical therapy.
Every year, one person out of every 40,000 is reported to suffer from morphea. Morphea is not life threatening, but severe cases in children can affect mobility to such an extent as to cause physical deformity and disability. Women are three times more likely than men to be affected by morphea.