Dermatomyositis (DM) is rare autoimmune disease of the muscles that is characterized by muscle weakness, a rash and inflammation of the muscles. It is listed among a category of diseases called myopathies. Dermatomyositis causes the muscles to shrink due to a lack of blood flow. This disease is found in children between the ages of 5 to 15 years of age and in adults who are 40 to 60 years old. When this disease is found in children it is called juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM). Dermatomyositis affects both sexes, however more females than men are diagnosed with this disease.

Symptoms of dermatomyositis include a purplish red rash on the eyelids, face, chest back, knuckles, knees and elbows. The rash can also be present in the nailbeds. This is a slow progressive disease that causes the muscles in the trunk, hips, neck, shoulders, biceps and thighs to progressively weaken over time. Muscle weakness can get to the point that the person has difficulty doing simple tasks like getting dressed, combing hair or getting up out of a chair. The rash and muscle weakness typically occur simultaneously. However for some people the rash may appear several weeks before the muscle weakness is noticed. The muscles will also become tender to the touch and the patient can experience difficulty in swallowing. Interstitial lung disease may also be present when a person has dermatomyositis. Weight loss, ulcers and calcium deposits under the skin are also common. Children with dermatomyositis are more prone to develop calcium deposits than adults. The deposits usually occur one to three years after the onset of the disease. There may also be fever and sensitivity to light when a person has this disease.

More research is being done by The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and other institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine the exact cause of dermatomyositis. The exact cause is not yet known. This disease may be an inherited autoimmune disorder or may be caused by certain viral infections. It is common for people who have had Epstein-Bar virus or infectious mononucleosis to later on be diagnosed with dermatomyositis. People who have scleroderma or vasculitis or lupus often have dermatomyositis at the same time.

There is no cure for dermatomyositis. However, there are various treatment options for the symptoms of this disease. Coticosteroids like prednisone, intravenous immunoglobulin and immunosuppressant medications, such as azathioprine and methotrexate and cyclosporine A, cyclophosphamide, and tacrolimus, are used to treat the symptoms. The doctor may also prescribe physical therapy to prevent muscle weakness and atrophy. Exercise can also help maintain the range of motion. Heat therapy involving microwave and ultrasound is also recommended. If there are painful calcium lumps under the skin they may be surgically removed. Topical ointments containing coricosteroids is also recommended to treat skin symptoms. The patient is also told to wear protective clothing and to use sunscreen.

Diagnostic tests are done to determine the presence of dermatomyositis. Testing for liver enzymes (EMG) is often done to check for creatine phosphokinase (CPK), which can help monitor the progress of this disease and tell the doctor if treatment is working. Other blood tests and muscle biopsy can help diagnose this disease. When muscle biopsy is done the doctor will look for perifascicular muscle fiber atrophy and mixed B and T cell perivascular infiltrate which help them to give a definite diagnosis for dermatomyositis.

People who are diagnosed with dermatomyositis cope with this disease better if they get involved with a support group. There are all kinds of support groups online for dermatomyositis. You can find these support groups by using your search engine. There may also be local support groups in your area. Your medical care team can give advice on where to find support groups for people who have dermatomyositis.

Last updated on Dec 25th, 2010 and filed under Musculoskeletal Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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