Dermatomyositis is a rare inflammatory disease. Common symptoms of
dermatomyositis include a distinctive skin rash, muscle weakness, and inflammatory
myopathy, or inflamed muscles. It’s one of only three known inflammatory
myopathies. Dermatomyositis can affect both adults and children. There’s no
cure for this condition, but symptoms can be managed.
The exact cause of dermatomyositis isn’t known. However, it
has many similarities to an autoimmune disease. An autoimmune disease occurs
when your body’s disease-fighting cells, called antibodies, attack your healthy
cells. Having a compromised immune system may also contribute. For example,
having a viral infection or cancer may compromise your immune system and lead
to the development of dermatomyositis.
Is at Risk for Developing Dermatomyositis?
Anyone can develop dermatomyositis. However, according to
Clinic, it’s most common in adults between the ages of 40 and 60 and
children between the ages of 5 and 15. The disease affects women more often
Are the Symptoms of Dermatomyositis?
In most cases, the first symptom is a distinctive skin rash
on the face, chest, nails, or elbows. The rash is patchy and usually a
You may also have muscle weakness that gets worse over weeks
or months. This muscle weakness usually starts in your neck, arms, or hips and
can be felt on both sides of your body.
Other symptoms you might experience are:
- muscle pain
- muscle tenderness
- problems swallowing
- lung problems
- hard calcium deposits underneath the skin, which
is mostly seen in children
- unintentional weight loss
There is a subtype of dermatomyositis that includes the rash
but not muscle weakness. This is known as amyopathic dermatomyositis.
Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and
medical history and perform a physical exam. Dermatomyositis is an easier
inflammatory muscle disease to diagnose because of the rash associated with it.
Your doctor may also order:
- an MRI to look for abnormal muscles
- an electromyography (EMG) to record electrical
impulses that control your muscles
- a blood analysis to check your levels of muscle
enzymes and autoantibodies, which are antibodies that attack normal cells
- a muscle biopsy to look for inflammation and
other problems associated with the disease in a sample of muscle tissue
- a skin biopsy to look for changes caused by the
disease in a skin sample
There’s no cure for dermatomyositis. Treatment can improve
the condition of your skin and muscle weakness. Available treatments include
medication, physical therapy, and surgery. The most common treatment is
Corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, are the
preferred method of treatment in most cases. You can take them by mouth or
apply them to your skin. Corticosteroids lower the response of your immune
system, which reduces the amount of inflammation-causing antibodies.
Corticosteroids shouldn’t be used for long periods of time because
of their potential side effects. Your doctor will most likely start you on a
high dose and then gradually lower it.
If corticosteroids alone don’t improve your symptoms, your
doctor might prescribe other medications to suppress your immune system.
Corticosteroid-sparing medications are used to reduce the
side effects of corticosteroids. Drugs such as azathioprine and methotrexate
may be used if your case is advanced or if you have any complications.
Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG)
You’re producing antibodies that target your skin and
muscles if you have dermatomyositis. Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) uses
healthy antibodies to block these antibodies. IVIG consists of a mixture of
antibodies that have been collected from thousands of healthy people who have
donated their blood. These antibodies are given to you through an IV.
Your doctor might suggest additional treatments, such as:
- physical therapy that improves and preserves
your muscle strength along with preventing loss of muscle tissue
- antimalarial medications for a persistent rash
- surgery to remove calcium deposits
- medications to help with pain
Complications of Dermatomyositis
The muscle weakness and skin problems linked with dermatomyositis
can cause a number of problems. Some common complications are:
- skin ulcers
- gastric ulcers
- difficulty breathing
- lung infections
- problems swallowing
- weight loss
There’s no cure for dermatomyositis, but your symptoms can be
treated. Your doctor will create a treatment plan for you that will help you
manage your symptoms.