Dermatomyositis is a rare inflammatory disorder that affects the skin and the muscles in the body. This disease, a type of inflammatory myopathy, is characterised by skin rashes and muscle weakness. The onset of this condition is generally between the ages of 50 – 65 in adult men and women, but it can also develop in children in the age group of 5 – 15 years. Although dermatomyositis is witnessed in both men and women, it tends to predominantly impact females.
In general, dermatomyositis is not a serious disease when symptoms are mild, but being a long-term illness with no cure, the discomforting signs undeniably worsen with age and can result in challenges in swallowing food and even breathing difficulties, if the muscles in the oesophagus and chest are hampered. However, proper medical treatment helps in alleviating symptoms and healing skin rashes, uplifting muscle strength, that aid the patient in managing the signs of dermatomyositis.
Causes Of Dermatomyositis:
The exact cause of dermatomyositis is not known, but the ailment displays patterns of onset and progression similar to autoimmune disorders, wherein the immune system targets its own cells and tissues, mistaking them to be invasive foreign microbes/particles.
Moreover, medical experts have also established that genetic factors such as gene defects and environmental attributes like viral infections, prolonged exposure to sunlight/UV rays, long-term intake of strong prescription medications and frequent smoking habits also induce dermatomyositis.
The typical indications of dermatomyositis either arise all of a sudden or emerge gradually over time and comprise:
- Skin discolouration and inflammation, including purple to red rashes with itching, pain, that develop in the face, eyelids, elbows, knees, chest and back
- Decline in muscle strength, especially in the hips, thighs, shoulders, neck and upper arms, which becomes exacerbated as the inflammatory condition of dermatomyositis progresses
In some instances, dermatomyositis leads to grave complications as more muscles in the body are impaired, such as:
- Breathing distress, shortness of breath, when chest muscles are affected
- Calcium deposits in muscles, bones, skin, when the illness advances
- Difficulty swallowing meals, when the muscles in the esophagus i.e. food pipe extending from the back of the mouth to the stomach, are impeded
- Passing of solid foods and liquids directly into the lungs due to incapability to swallow properly, which triggers aspiration pneumonia
As dermatomyositis progresses in an individual and restricts more muscle groups in the body, it increases the risk of developing related health anomalies, such as Raynaud’s disease wherein blood circulation is obstructed to extremities of fingers, toes with bluish discolouration, as well as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, lung ailments and even ovarian cancer.
The doctor conducts a series of diagnostic analyses to confirm if the patient has dermatomyositis, which consist of:
- Blood tests, to detect elevated levels of muscle enzymes or specific autoantibodies linked to dermatomyositis
- Electromyography, to measure to the electrical activity of muscles when they are tightened and relaxed
- Skin biopsy, to analyse dermal tissues for signs of dermatomyositis
- Imaging scans of chest X-ray, MRI, to assess the internal structures of chest muscles, lung tissues and other affected muscle groups in the body
- Muscle biopsy, to spot signs of inflammation, structural damage or infection
Though there is no cure for dermatomyositis, the symptoms of this inflammatory disorder can be managed with pertinent treatment measures, such as:
- Prescription medications, including steroids, to mitigate muscle pain, swelling in the skin, besides soothe itching and rashes
- Physical therapy sessions, involving exercises to augment muscle strength and flexibility
- Speech therapy, if the muscles in the esophagus are affected, obstructing routine activities like swallowing food and movement of the mouth while talking
- Intravenous immunoglobulin, containing healthy antibodies, is administered as an infusion via a vein, to suppress the detrimental antibodies attacking the skin and muscle tissues
- Surgery, to remove calcium deposits in various muscle groups in the body
The healthcare provider also advises the patient to wear protective clothing and apply sunscreen while going out, to prevent skin rashes from becoming more severe owing to sun exposure. These remedial measures help to cope with the persistent muscle weakness and skin inflammation in dermatomyositis and restore muscular movement and functions in the patient.