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Diseases

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Your Question

I was diagnosed with morphea on my trunk in 1987. Treatment with penicillamine and Accutane was unsuccessful. After about 5 years, the condition went into remission. About seven years later the morphea returned, this time on my lower legs and feet. It has been treated with various medications and treatments without success. My doctors have told me that there is nothing that can be done. What treatments are recommended for morphea?

Our Answer

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

How might morphea be treated?

There is no cure for morphea. Treatment is aimed at controlling the signs and symptoms and slowing the spread of the disease. The earlier treatment is started, the more effective it is. The precise treatment depends on the extent and severity of the condition, but may include:[1]

  • Calcipotriene cream (Dovonex). This synthetic form of vitamin D may help lessen the effecvts of morphea.
  • Corticosteroids. A doctor may prescribe these medications early in the course of treatment, to reduce inflammation and prevent thickening of the collagen. They can be taken either orally or topically or both.
  • Antimalarial drugs. Medications such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) or chloroquine (Aralen) may help reduce inflammation and slow the progress of the disease.
  • Immunosuppressive medications. The doctor may prescribe these drugs (methotrexate or cyclosporine) to control the immune system and reduce inflammation.
  • Physical therapy. This type of treatment uses stretching, strengthening and range-of-motion exercises to improve the mobility of the joints.
  • Light therapy. This approach uses ultraviolet light to improve the appearance of the skin. It works best when initiated soon after skin changes appear.   

In addition, individuals with morphea are encouraged to apply moisturizer frequently, apply sunscreen before going outdoors, use humidifiers to moisten the air indoors, take warm, not hot, baths and showers, and avoid harsh soaps and household cleaners.[2]

More detailed information about the treatment of morphea can be accessed through eMedicine.

Last updated: 6/23/2011

What is the prognosis for individuals with morphea?

Most patients develop only one or two patches of thickening that are frequently darker or lighter than the surrounding skin. A yellow discoloration may also occur.[3] Although morphea generally fades out in 3 to 5 years, the changes in skin color may last for years, in spite of improvement and softening of the skin.[4][3]  Some patients continue to develop new patches and essentially go on to develop generalized morphea.[3] Rarely, muscle weakness may occur.[4] 
Last updated: 6/23/2011

How can I locate research for morphea?

ClinicalTrials.gov lists trials that are studying or have studied morphea. Click on the link to go to ClinicalTrials.gov to read descriptions of these studies.

You can also contact the Patient Recruitment and Public Liaison (PRPL) Office at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). We recommend calling the toll-free number listed below to speak with a specialist, who can help you determine if you are eligible for any clinical trials.  

Patient Recruitment and Public Liaison Office
NIH Clinical Center
Bethesda, Maryland 20892-2655
Toll-free: 800-411-1222
Fax: 301-480-9793
Email: prpl@mail.cc.nih.gov
Web site:  http://clinicalcenter.nih.gov/

If you are interested in enrolling in a clinical trial, you can find helpful general information on clinical trials at the following ClinicalTrials.gov Web page.
http://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/info/understand

A tutorial about clinical trials that can also help answer your questions can be found at the following link from the National Library of Medicine:
http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tutorials/cancerclinicaltrials/htm/lesson.htm

Resources on many charitable or special-fare flights to research and treatment sites and low-cost hospitality accommodations for outpatients and family members, as well as ambulance services, are listed on the Web site of the Office of Rare Diseases (ORD), part of the National Institutes of Health.
http://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/Resources.aspx?PageID=8

Last updated: 6/23/2011

How can I find journal articles which discuss the treatment of morphea?

You can find relevant articles on the treatment of morphea through PubMed, a searchable database of biomedical journal articles. Although not all of the articles are available for free online, most articles listed in PubMed have a summary available. To obtain the full article, contact a medical/university library or your local library for interlibrary loan. You can also order articles online through the publisher’s Web site. Using "morphea [ti] AND treatment" as your search term should help you locate articles. Use the advanced search feature to narrow your search results. Click here to view a search.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/PubMed

The National Library of Medicine (NLM) Web site has a page for locating libraries in your area that can provide direct access to these journals (print or online). The Web page also describes how you can get these articles through interlibrary loan and Loansome Doc (an NLM document-ordering service). You can access this page at the following link http://nnlm.gov/members/. You can also contact the NLM toll-free at 888-346-3656 to locate libraries in your area.

Last updated: 6/23/2011

References