What is Dermatomyositis?

Dermatomyositis is a rare autoimmune connective tissue disorder characterized by skin rash and chronic muscle weakness, stiffness and inflammation. It affects about 6-30 people per million and is primarily diagnosed in middle age. Men and women are affected equally. Symptoms of dermatomyosits can include: skin rash (usually appearing around the eyes, elbows, knuckles, neck, shoulders, or upper chest), fatigue, weakness in the muscle of arms and legs, joint pain, difficulty swallowing and breathing, and difficulty in lifting items, such as book bags.

Diagnosing Dermatomyositis

Dermatomyositis can be difficult to diagnose because its symptoms can be so similar to other conditions. A physician will typically perform a physical examination and review your medical history and any recent labs and tests. Specific tests to rule out other conditions may include: an electromyography (EMG) test, muscle biopsy, muscle enzyme tests, urine tests, breathing tests, and a blood test that looks for specific antibodies associated with dermatomyositis. Additionally, a skin biopsy may be used to look for specific signs of the disorder.

Treatment Options for Dermatomyositis

Treatment for dermatomyositis typically includes medications to reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system, physical therapy to maintain muscle function, and regular follow-up with a physician. Several medications are used to treat the condition, such as corticosteroids, methotrexate, cyclosporine, and hydroxychloroquine, which have different side effects and must be carefully monitored.

The Benefits of Early Treatment

Early diagnosis and treatment of dermatomyositis is essential to help reduce your symptoms, improve your quality of life, and potentially help prevent long-term complications such as skin cancer or organ damage. Early treatment may also reduce the risk of disability or deformity, and should be accompanied by counseling, lifestyle changes, and physical therapy to help maintain physical strength and function.

Lifestyle Changes for Dermatomyositis

Certain lifestyle changes can help reduce the risk of flare-ups and help ease symptoms:

  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Consuming enough fluids to stay hydrated
  • Avoiding UV exposure, such as from the sun or tanning beds
  • Avoiding intense exercise and taking breaks when necessary
  • Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing