Dermatomyositis is a relatively uncommon disease that damages both skin and muscles. It can affect people of any age, but children and middle-aged adults are its most common victims. Also, this disease generally afflicts more females than males. Dermatomyositis symptoms typically worsen over time, and the most common ones include a skin rash, muscle pain and weakness, and calcium deposits under the skin.
The first dermatomyositis symptoms are almost always the skin rashes. This violet-colored rash is usually quite itchy, and can become scaly or flaky. It most often develops on the face, hands, arms, hips, and thighs. In some cases, it can also develop on the back, scalp, and the upper chest. In severe cases of dermatomyositis blisters can form in addition to the rash.
After the rash, the next symptom to occur is progressive muscle weakness, which can happen months or even years after the initial rash. Often, this weakness is accompanied by muscle pain or muscle tenderness in certain areas. If the rash is present for six month or more without muscle weakness, it is then labeled clinically amyopathic dermatomyositis.
At first, the muscles closest to the trunk are affected, namely the shoulder and hip muscles. Getting out of a chair or raising the arms above the head can be extremely difficult at times. As the disease progresses, other areas of the body can possibly become affected, causing more serious complications. Lung problems, fatigue, fever, intestinal perforations, and gastrointestinal ulcers are other dermatomyositis symptoms. Difficulty swallowing due to this disease can also lead to weight loss.
Roughly one to three years after dermatomyositis begins, calcium deposits under the skin may begin to form. This is called calcinosis, and it typically occurs more often in children than adults. These hard bumps form under the skin and can happen anywhere on the body. Most often, however, they occur on the hands and arms.
There is no cure for this disease. Instead, treatment is mainly focused on soothing the dermatomyositis symptoms. As with most other diseases, early intervention is the key to success, and can lead to fewer complications down the road.
Usually the first treatments involve the use of corticosteroids. If these fail, physicians may begin a treatment involving immunosuppressants. These medications limit antibody production in the body, which can lead to less inflammation associated with dermatomyositis symptoms. Physical therapy is another common treatment for dermatomyositis, which has been known to improve flexibility and strength in some patients.