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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.

Complications

If the muscles in your esophagus are affected, you may have problems swallowing (dysphagia), which in turn may cause weight loss and malnutrition. Dysphagia may also lead to entrance of food or liquids, including saliva, into your lungs (aspiration), which can lead to pneumonia. If your chest muscles are involved, you may experience breathing problems, such as shortness of breath. Ulceration and bleeding can occur in the gastrointestinal system. Deposits of calcium in your muscles, skin and connective tissues (calcinosis) can occur late in the disease, particularly if you've had the disease for a long time.

Dermatomyositis may be associated with other conditions, including:

  • Raynaud's phenomenon. This is a condition in which your fingers, toes, cheeks, nose and ears turn pale when exposed to cold temperatures.

  • Other connective tissue diseases. Diseases that affect tissues that hold your body together, such as your muscles and joints, sometimes occur in conjunction with each other. Conditions such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma and Sjogren's syndrome can occur in combination with dermatomyositis.

  • Cardiovascular disease. The muscle of your heart may become inflamed (myocarditis). In a small number of people who have dermatomyositis, congestive heart failure and heart arrhythmias may develop.

  • Lung disease. A condition called interstitial lung disease may occur with dermatomyositis. Interstitial lung disease refers to a group of disorders that cause scarring (fibrosis) of lung tissue, making lungs stiff and inelastic. Signs and symptoms include a dry cough and shortness of breath.

  • Cancer. Dermatomyositis in adults has been linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly of the lungs, breast, ovaries and gastrointestinal tract. Risk of cancer increases with age, although it appears to level off three years after a diagnosis of dermatomyositis.

The outcome (prognosis) of dermatomyositis tends to be better if there are no associated complications such as esophageal damage, lung disease or cancer. Early diagnosis is important, because it can lead to prompt treatment and evaluation of associated conditions. Early treatment of children can prevent the development of calcinosis, a condition that can be hard to treat once it's established.

Pregnancy may worsen symptoms in women with active disease. Active dermatomyositis can also increase the risk of premature birth or stillbirth. If the disease is in remission, the risk isn't as great.

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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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Last Modified : 03/15/08 12:14 AM