Morphea, also known as localized linear scleroderma, is a benign skin ailment. The cause is unknown. Morphea occurs in 0.03% of people, and is more common in females. Systemic scleroderma is not the same problem because it involves many parts of the body, not just the skin. We do not expect morphea to progress into systemic scleroderma.
We can not predict the course of the disease, but most patients are clear within 3 to 5 years. Treatments are aimed at preventing symptoms and atrophy (or depressions) of the skin and deep tissues, fat, and muscle.
The three types of morphea most often seen in children are plaque, generalized, and linear. Plaque morphea presents with firm round or oval areas of skin. They may have a lilac color around them. Some patients may have itching. Two or more areas of skin are involved in the generalized form. Linear morphea often occurs on the face, arms, and legs (most of the time on one side only). It can produce shrinkage of the tissue below. On the face this process is called “coup de saber” (cut of the sword) because of the loss of hair along a line and thinning of the tissues below. When morphea occurs over a joint, it may be hard to move.
Lab testing is not often needed for this problem, because it rarely affects other organs. Skin biopsy remains the best way to detect it, but is rarely needed. The treatments used are not always helpful in all patients. Strong steroid creams were the first type of treatment used. This treatment is still helpful in some cases. Lately, the use of Vitamin D ointment covered with a clear plastic coating has been shown to help. Other treatments like medicines such as methotrexate or corticosteroids taken by mouth, may be tried, but are used with caution because of their side effects. Ultraviolet A light can be used, but it needs to be done in the doctor’s office several times a week. If the morphea occurs over a joint, physical therapy is crucial in order to maintain movement of the joint.
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American Family Children’s Hospital
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Madison, WI 53792
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Last Updated: 02/13/2013
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