An Overview of Parry-Romberg Syndrome

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Parry-Romberg syndrome (PRS) is a disease that’s marked by a gradual degeneration of the skin and soft tissue areas on one half of the face (known as hemifacial atrophy), according to the Genetic and Rare Disease Information Center (GARD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The disease is acquired, meaning it’s not an inherited condition or present at the time of birth. Typically, the syndrome begins in childhood or young adulthood, and usually, the facial atrophy occurs on the left side of the face.

Parry-Romberg syndrome may be referred to by other names as well, such as:

  • Progressive hemifacial atrophy (PHA)
  • Progressive facial hemiatrophy
  • Idiopathic hemifacial atrophy
  • Romberg’s syndrome

In certain circumstances, the disease may progress to both sides of the face. It may even affect an arm, the midsection, or a leg.

PRS is considered rare because it impacts less than three individuals per 100,000 people, notes the journal Medicine. Additionally, PRS is more likely to occur in females than in males.

The first descriptions of PRS were provided by physicians Caleb Parry in 1825 and Moritz Romberg in 1846. Often, PRS is linked to a form of the autoimmune disease scleroderma called linear scleroderma, or "en coupe de sabre" (ECDS). In linear scleroderma, a localized area of the skin and the tissues beneath it contain abnormalities similar to those found in PRS. At the present time, the cause of the syndrome isn’t well understood and may vary between one person and another.

parry romberg syndrome causes
Illustration by Emily Roberts, Verywell

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of PRS can range from mild to severe. The characteristic symptoms of PRS are atrophy (wasting away) of the skin and soft tissues. Additionally, muscle, cartilage, and bone may be affected. Because PRS is a progressive disease, all symptoms worsen over time until reaching a period of stability.

Other Symptoms

  • Impairment in the muscles and tissues of the nose, mouth, tongue, eyes, brow, ears, and neck
  • The mouth and nose appearing to be displaced to one side
  • The eye and the cheek looking as though they are sunken in on the affected side
  • Changes in skin color, becoming either lighter or darker
  • Loss of facial hair
  • Facial pain
  • Seizures
  • Migraines
  • Nervous system issues
  • Involvement of the eye
  • Affected jaw and teeth

Causes

The cause of PRS is unknown, but a number of theories have emerged over the years as to possible factors that contribute to the disease. Such ideas include:

  • Trauma (some cases of PRS seemed to have originated from trauma to the face or neck)
  • Autoimmunity (immune response that mistakenly attacks healthy cells)
  • Bacterial infections like Lyme disease (caused by tick bites)
  • Viral infections like herpes
  • Dysfunction of the nervous system
  • Encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain
  • Vasculitis, or blood vessel abnormalities
  • Scleroderma (group of diseases that cause hardening and tightening of skin and connective tissue)
  • Benign (noncancerous) tumors

One cause may not apply to all people with PRS. Factors that contribute to the development of the condition in one individual may be entirely different in another person. Currently, more research is needed to help pinpoint an underlying source of this condition.  

Diagnosis

To diagnose PRS, your physician or medical team will look for the distinguishing characteristics of the condition. Generally, the onset of PRS occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 15 years of age. The doctor will take a detailed medical history and perform a comprehensive physical examination.

During the physical exam, the physician will check for reduced facial skin integrity and a loss of fat, muscle, and bone. The doctor may decide further testing is needed, such as a CT (computed tomography) scan or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), to confirm a diagnosis of PRS.

In some cases, a biopsy (removing a sample of tissue for further examination) of the affected skin may be recommended when a patient has a diagnosis of linear scleroderma as well.   

Treatment

To date, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to treating PRS. Treatment is aimed at providing symptom relief, controlling seizures when they’re present, and stopping the further advancement of the disease, states a literature review in the American Journal of Neuroradiology.

Several medical specialists may be involved in care, including dermatologists (skin specialists), eye doctors, surgeons, and neurologists (nervous system specialists). Treatment follows no established guidelines, and most research has involved small numbers of people or case reports.

Because the cause of PRS is often unclear, there are reports in medical literature of many treatments being tried, although none yet has proven helpful, including:

  • Immunosuppressive therapies like corticosteroids
  • Immunomodulators, including a combination of methotrexate and prednisone
  • Plasmapheresis (filtering of blood plasma)
  • Anticonvulsant drugs to reduce seizures when applicable
  • Antimalarials (drugs to fight malaria)
  • Vitamin D

PRS is considered self-limiting, meaning there’s a progressive period of deterioration until it reaches a period of stabilization. Once the condition has stabilized, surgical intervention and cosmetic treatments may be necessary to improve facial function and appearance. These treatments may include:

  • Pulsed dye lasers
  • Dermal fat grafts
  • Autologous fat grafts where fat is removed from your own body
  • Muscle flap grafts
  • Silicone injections or implants
  • Bone grafts
  • Cartilage grafts
  • Hyaluronic acid injections to fill in areas beneath the skin

Prognosis

Although PRS is a self-limiting condition, the severity of the symptoms can vary significantly from one person to the next. Furthermore, the period of time it takes the disease to reach a period of stability also differs considerably among individuals.

GARD suggests it may take a person between two and 20 years to reach a point of stability. Additionally, those who develop PRS later in life may experience a less severe form of the condition due to having a fully developed nervous system and craniofacial structures.

It is possible for patients with PRS to relapse after treatment, according to a study in a 2014 issue of the Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases.

A Word From Verywell

There is still a lot of information yet to discover about PRS, and a diagnosis of the condition can have negative ramifications on a person’s mental health and social life. Due to the rarity of the syndrome, individuals may feel as if they are alone. Therefore, it’s important to find a doctor whom you can trust and communicate your questions and concerns to.

If you’re looking to connect with others with this disease, organizations like The Romberg's Connection and the International Scleroderma Network offer support to patients and families and may be able to point you toward additional resources as well.

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2 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Wong M, Phillips CD, Hagiwara M, Shatzkes, DR. Parry Romberg Syndrome: 7 Cases and Literature Review. American Journal of Neuroradiology. 2015 July; 36(7): 1355-1361. DOI: 10.3174/ajnr.A4297.

  2. Tolkachjov, S.N., Patel, N.G. & Tollefson, M.M. Progressive hemifacial atrophy: a review. Orphanet J Rare Dis 10, 39 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13023-015-0250-9

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