Morphea (mor-FEE-uh) is a rare condition that causes painless, discolored patches on your skin.
Typically, the skin changes appear on the belly, chest or back. But they might also appear on your face, arms and legs. Over time the patches may become firm, dry and smooth. Morphea tends to affect only the outer layers of your skin. But some forms of the condition also affect deeper tissues and may restrict movement in the joints.
Morphea usually improves on its own over time, though recurrences are common. In the meantime, medications and therapies are available to help treat the skin discoloration and other effects.
Signs and symptoms of morphea vary depending on the type and stage of the condition. They include:
- Reddish or purplish oval patches of skin, often on the belly, chest or back
- Patches that gradually develop a lighter or whitish center
- Linear patches, especially on the arms or legs and possibly the forehead or scalp
- A gradual change in the affected skin, which becomes firm, thickened, dry and shiny
Morphea affects the skin and underlying tissue and sometimes bone. The condition generally lasts several years and then improves or at times disappears by itself. It may leave scars or areas of darkened or discolored skin. It is possible for morphea to recur.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you notice reddish patches of hardening or thickening skin. Early diagnosis and treatment may help slow the development of new patches and allow your doctor to identify and treat complications before they worsen.
The cause of morphea is unknown. It may be caused by an unusual reaction of your immune system. In people at increased risk of morphea, it could be triggered by injury to the affected area, medications, chemical toxins, an infection or radiation therapy.
The condition isn't contagious.
Certain factors may affect your risk of developing morphea, including:
- Being white and female. Morphea is most common in white females.
- Age. The condition can affect people at any age. It usually appears between the ages of 2 and 14 or in the mid-40s.
- A family history of morphea. This condition can run in families. People with morphea are more likely to have a family history of morphea and other autoimmune diseases.
Morphea can cause a number of complications, including:
- Self-esteem issues. Morphea can have a negative effect on your self-esteem and body image, particularly if discolored patches of skin appear on your arms, legs or face.
- Movement problems. Morphea that affects the arms or legs can impair joint mobility.
- Widespread areas of hardened, discolored skin. Numerous new patches of hardened, discolored skin may seem to join together, a condition known as generalized morphea.
- Loss of hair and sweat glands. Over time, you may lose hair and sweat glands in the affected area.
- Eye damage. Children with head and neck morphea may experience unnoticeable but permanent eye damage.