What is Dermatomyositis?

Dee S.
Dee S.

Dermatomyositis is a relatively rare disease of the muscles that is characterized by extreme inflammation of the muscles, muscle weakness, and a rash. It can occur in both adults, usually in their 40s to 60s; and children, typically between the ages of five to 15. In general, women are more commonly affected by dermatomyositis than men. In most individuals, it can take weeks or even months to fully develop and can have spontaneous periods of time when the symptoms go into remission.

Dermatomyositis can appear on eyelids.
Dermatomyositis can appear on eyelids.

As mentioned above, the most common symptoms of dermatomyositis are a purplish-colored rash on the face, chest, eyelids, back, toes, nailbeds, knuckles, knees, and elbows. The muscles also become progressively weak, specifically those that are closest to the torso of the body, like the hips, neck, shoulders, thighs and biceps. The rash and the muscle weakness occur simultaneously – or the rash may come before the muscle weakness by several weeks. Lesser common symptoms include trouble swallowing, tenderness to the muscles, weight loss, calcium deposits that form hard lumps under the skin in younger people, ulcers, and lung issues. In the worst cases, the symptoms can prevent an affected individual from doing simple tasks, such as standing up from a chair, combing her hair, or putting clothes on.

Dermatomyositis is often causes a weakness in the muscles.
Dermatomyositis is often causes a weakness in the muscles.

The exact causes of dermatomyositis are unknown. It is part of a family of diseases called myopathies. Many researchers believe that myopathies are actually autoimmune disorders where the body’s immune system conducts an attack against the body. Researchers also are beginning to believe that some people are genetically predisposed to the disease.

Wearing sunscreen will help protect areas where a dermatomyositis rash has developed.
Wearing sunscreen will help protect areas where a dermatomyositis rash has developed.

Dermatomyositis does not have a cure; however, it is possible to treat the symptoms. Certain pharmaceuticals, such as corticosteroids, immunosuppressant drugs, and intravenous immunoglobulin are sometimes used. Physical therapy is a good way to prevent the muscles from atrophying and to prevent additional loss of muscle strength and increase range of motion. Heat therapy, assistive equipment, and rest are often recommended, as well. In some cases, surgery may be performed to remove the calcium lumps, particularly if they are causing the individual pain or are causing infections.

People suffering from dermatomyositis may benefit from support groups.
People suffering from dermatomyositis may benefit from support groups.

Once an individual is diagnosed with dermatomyositis, it is important to have a good support group and way of coping with the disease. Read and understand all the current information and talk opening with a specialist and others who have the disease. Individuals should never overly exert themselves and should be able to ask others to help them when necessary. Wearing sunscreen will do wonders to protect the sun-sensitive areas where the rash has developed.

Someone with dermatomyositis may experience shoulder weakness.
Someone with dermatomyositis may experience shoulder weakness.
Common sysmtpoms of dermatomyositis include a purplish-colored rash on the elbows.
Common sysmtpoms of dermatomyositis include a purplish-colored rash on the elbows.
Patients undergoing immunoglobulin therapy for dermatomyositis may have a port placed under the skin in order to accommodate the need for frequent venous access.
Patients undergoing immunoglobulin therapy for dermatomyositis may have a port placed under the skin in order to accommodate the need for frequent venous access.
Dee S.
Dee S.

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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