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What is Morphea Scleroderma?

By J.M. Willhite
Updated May 17, 2024
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Morphea scleroderma is a condition that adversely affects the presentation and physiology of one’s skin. Considered an autoimmune disease, severe presentations of morphea scleroderma can impair the functionality of one’s joints, muscles and soft tissues. With no cure available, treatment for morphea scleroderma is generally centered on symptom management and is usually multi-faceted in its approach. Individuals with widespread or severe presentations may be given medication to slow disease progression and undergo therapies to improve the skin's appearance and flexibility.

There is no known, definitive cause for the development of morphea scleroderma. Individuals who have recently undergone certain cancer-treatment therapies, such as radiation, may demonstrate an increased susceptibility to morphea scleroderma. Repeated injury, trauma, or the presence of infection may also contribute to the onset of scleroderma symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals with impaired immune system function or immuno-hypersensitivity may possess an increased risk for becoming symptomatic.

Due to the tell-tale nature of scleroderma symptoms, a diagnosis of morphea scleroderma is generally made during a physical examination. The combination of one’s skin presentation and symptoms is generally enough to confirm a diagnosis. In some cases, a physician may order a tissue sample to be taken to confirm that a diagnosis of morphea scleroderma is appropriate. Tissue samples are generally reserved for moderate to severe presentations of scleroderma that demonstrate skin thickening due to a depletion of collagen.

Individuals who develop morphea scleroderma may experience the gradual onset of a variety of signs and symptoms. Known to induce skin hardening, this type of scleroderma may initially present with skin discoloration that manifests as red- or purple-hued patches. With time, the initial discoloration will give way to a light or dark brown pigmentation that may affect only the topmost layer of the skin. The discolored areas will generally adopt a calloused or hardened texture. As the condition becomes more chronic, the skin hardening and discoloration can become more pronounced affecting deeper layers of the skin.

Mild presentations of this type of scleroderma are usually episodic in presentation and do not require treatment; episodes often subside without leaving any pronounced, lasting effects. Individuals with moderate to severe presentations may require the administration of multi-faceted treatment. It is not uncommon for symptomatic individuals to be given supplemental vitamin D to improve the skin's texture and pigmentation. Prescription medications may also be administered to alleviate inflammation and suppress the immune system's response to slow disease progression. Physical and light therapies may also be implemented to improve range-of-motion, joint mobility, and help improve the skin's appearance.

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