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Dermatomyositis
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Dermatomyositis

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WOMEN'S HEALTH

Hair/Nails/Skin

Although dermatomyositis may occur at any age, it mostly affects adults in their late 40s to early 60s or children between 5 and 15 years of age. Women have it more often than men do. Dermatomyositis in children is distinct from the adult form. The disease usually develops over weeks or months.

Dermatomyositis is a relatively rare disease marked by muscle weakness and a distinctive skin rash. Because of similarities in signs, symptoms and treatment, it's often discussed in conjunction with polymyositis. Both conditions fall into the category of inflammatory muscle diseases - myo means "muscles" in Greek; itis means "inflamed." Derma, which means "skin," implies the skin-related signs and symptoms that accompany the muscle inflammation.

 

When to seek medical advice

If you experience any of the signs or symptoms of dermatomyositis, see your doctor. The earlier the disease is detected, the better your response may be to treatment. With treatment, you can manage and sometimes even reverse your signs and symptoms.

If you have difficulty swallowing or shortness of breath, call your doctor as soon as possible, as this may indicate rapid progression of the disease and the need for immediate help.

Screening and diagnosis

Dermatomyositis is the most easily recognized of the inflammatory muscle diseases because of its characteristic rash. Occasionally, a rash alone may prompt a diagnosis of dermatomyositis without muscle involvement (amyopathic dermatomyositis).

In addition to a thorough physical exam, including examination of muscle strength, and a detailed family medical history, your doctor may use some or all of the following tests to assist in the diagnosis:

  • Electromyography. A doctor with specialized training inserts a thin needle electrode through the skin into the muscle to be tested. Electrical activity is measured as you relax and as you gently tighten the muscle. Changes in the pattern of electrical activity can confirm a muscle disease. The doctor can determine the distribution of the disease by testing different muscles.

  • Blood analysis. A blood test will let your doctor know if you have elevated levels of muscle enzymes such as creatine kinase (CK) and aldolase. Increased CK and aldolase levels can indicate muscle damage. A blood test can also determine whether autoantibodies are present in your blood.

  •  Muscle biopsy. A small piece of muscle tissue is removed surgically for laboratory analysis. A muscle biopsy may reveal abnormalities in your muscles such as inflammation, damage or infection. The sample can also be examined for the presence of abnormal proteins and checked for enzyme deficiencies.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A scanner creates cross-sectional images of your muscles from data generated by a powerful magnetic field and radio waves. These images can be viewed from any direction or plane. During the test you lie inside the cylindrical-shaped scanner for 15 minutes to an hour. MRI scans may help detect inflammation in your muscles.

 

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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