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Morphea (Circumscribed Scleroderma)


Disease: Morphea (Circumscribed Scleroderma) Morphea (Circumscribed Scleroderma)
Category: Dermatological diseases
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Disease Definition:

The skin condition that causes purplish or reddish patches on one's skin is called morphea.  In general, morphea affects women more than men, though it occurs in all age groups and in both sexes. It usually appears on the arms, legs and torso.

Scleroderma is a condition that can cause a wide variety of problems, from skin discoloration to internal organ damage. Morphea is a localized form of scleroderma. With no damage to the organs, morphea tends to affect only the outermost layers of the skin and can sometimes restrict movement in the joints.

The severity of the condition is what treatment will depend on. One may naturally be concerned about his/her appearance when having morphea. To help with the appearance and other symptoms, medications and other treatments may be recommended.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Scleroderma is a term that literally means "hard skin", and morphea is a form of scleroderma. This condition is usually chronic or recurrent. The following are the symptoms of morphea:


  • Discoloration of the affected skin to look lighter of darker than the surrounding area. One or two oval-shaped patches develop in most people, which start out red, purple (lilac-colored) or yellowish and gradually develop a whitish center. These patches may turn brownish in color over time, and may eventually turn white.
  • Hardening of the skin
  • Thickening of the skin

In some cases, fatty or connective tissue below the skin may be involved in morphea, though only the uppermost layers of the skin are usually affected.


The exact cause of morphea is not clear. In the development of this rare condition, it is believed that a reaction of the immune system plays a role.

Recent research doesn’t support the theory that experts have explored, which says that there is a possible connection between morphea and infection, such as chickenpox or measles. Repeated trauma or radiation therapy to the affected area is included in other factors that may be associated with the onset of morphea.

Morphea occurs in all age groups, and it is more common in women than in men. Pinpointing those people who may be at highest risk is difficult because the cause is unknown.



If discolored patches of skin appear on the face, legs and arms, a possible negative effect on the patient's body image and self-esteem is the most common complication.
The skin may appear discolored and depressed if the face is involved. Extending from the scalp and forehead to the chin, only one side of the face is affected. Some discoloration may last for years, though the skin will likely soften and become less obviously discolored over time.

Joint mobility becomes impaired in about one in five people with morphea that affects the legs and arms. Even if discolored patches of skin remain, the pain may subside in the following months or years.

New patches of discolored, hard skin sometimes appear in such numbers that some of them may seem to join together. Generalized morphea is the name of this more extensive condition. In rare cases, morphea may be part of a more serious condition called progressive systemic scleroderma that may affect internal organs and blood vessels.


The treatment of morphea focuses on slowing the spread of the disease and controlling the signs and symptoms. However, there is no known cure for morphea. The earlier one begins treatment, the more effective it is. The exact treatment depends on the extent and severity of the condition, these treatments may include:

Plastic Surgery:
The look of discolored skin in highly visible places may be improved by cosmetic surgery techniques.

Immunosuppressive Medications:
To reduce inflammation and control the immune system of the patient, these drugs may be prescribed.

Laser Treatments, Topical Creams and Chemical Peels:
After the inflammation subsides, these approaches help bring the look of natural color back to the affected skin.

To prevent thickening of the collagen and reduce inflammation, these medications may be prescribed early in the course of treatment. A person may take them topically, orally or both.

Physical Therapy:
To improve the mobility of the joints, this type of treatment uses strengthening, stretching and range-of-motion exercises.

Antimalarial Drugs:
The progress of the disease may be slowed and inflammation may be reduced by medications such as chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine.


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