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Diseases

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Morphea


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Your Question

I was diagnosed with generalized morphea 4 years ago. Although it appears to be fading away, the pain has increased. Could this indicate that I am developing scleroderma inside my organs? How would I tell if this is the case? Can I possibly die from either of these diseases?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is morphea?

Morphea (mor-FEE-ah) comes from a Greek word that means “form” or “structure.” The word refers to local patches of scleroderma. The first signs of the disease are reddish patches of skin that thicken into firm, oval-shaped areas. The center of each patch becomes ivory colored with violet borders. These patches sweat very little and have little hair growth. Patches appear most often on the chest, stomach, and back. Sometimes they appear on the face, arms, and legs.[1] In most cases, morphea improves spontaneously over time (typically 3 to 5 years); however, patients are often left with patches of darkened or discolored skin and, in rare cases, muscle damage.[1][2] The cause of this condition is unknown.[3] Morphea can be either localized or generalized.[1]
Last updated: 1/28/2010

What is generalized morphea?

Generalized morphea is a more severe, although less common, condition than localized morphea. Large dark patches of thick, tight skin form on the trunk, arms and legs, and can be so extensive that they merge into one another. These widespread plaques closely resemble oversized patches of localized morphea. Patients with generalized morphea do not suffer from the internal life-threatening features of systemic sclerosis, but the disease can result in severe scars and physical disability.[2]
Last updated: 5/19/2009

Can morphea progress into the systemic form of scleroderma which affects the internal organs of the body?

Localized types of scleroderma, including morphea, are those limited to the skin and related tissues. In extreme cases, the muscle below is also affected by a hardening of the tissues.[2] Internal organs are not affected by localized scleroderma, and localized scleroderma will very rarely progress to the systemic form of the disease.[1] Although localized conditions often improve or go away on their own over time, the skin changes and damage that occur when the disease is active can be permanent. For some people, localized scleroderma can be disfiguring and painful.[1][2]  
Last updated: 6/18/2012

Is morphea a life-threatening condition?

Because internal organs are not affected by localized scleroderma, it is not a life-threatening illness and can be considered a less serious health threat than other forms of the disease.[2] Of course, if you are concerned about your health as a result of morphea or fear that you may have been misdiagnosed, we strongly recommend that you consult with your healthcare provider.  
Last updated: 5/19/2009

References
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.