What is Dermatomyositis?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
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  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2019
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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.

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.


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.

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.

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.


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