Morphea is a localized scleroderma subtype and the most common form of localized scleroderma among adults. It is well-defined and typically confined to the skin.

It is characterized by limited, round or oval-shaped areas of hard and shiny skin, and affects one or more parts of the body usually around the trunk and nearby areas. The face is generally spared. In the onset of morphea, there is a characteristic “purple ring” around the plaque that corresponds to the inflammatory phase of the disease.

The cause of morphea is not known. It may be associated with an abnormal immune response or triggered by radiation therapy, repeated trauma to the affected area, or a recent infection. Usually it doesn’t need treatment because it resolves by itself within three to five years — the darkened areas of skin rarely remain. Treatment used for symptom control until it resolves could include phototherapy, vitamin D creams, or corticosteroids.

Generalized morphea is more frequent in women, and physical exercise may play a role in its development. People with morphea may develop sclerosis of the fingers that can progress to ulcerations, phalanx resorption, changes in capillaries of the nail fold, and Raynaud’s phenomenon, but those developments are uncommon. Morphea usually develops quickly over a period of months. Joint and muscle manifestations are common.

Although rare, studies suggest that up to 5% of people with morphea progress to systemic sclerosis. This transition may be marked by the development of Raynaud’s phenomenon and nailfold capillary changes.

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