Dermatomyositis is a connective tissue disease. It causes inflammatory changes in the muscle and a skin rash. The cause is unknown. It usually starts with an itchy, burning, reddish or bluish rash on areas that have been exposed to the sun. As the disease progresses, there is muscle weakness. The arm and thigh muscles are most affected. You may have a hard time climbing stairs, getting out of chairs, lifting heavy things, or raising your arms overhead. Sometimes the muscles ache and become tender. The swallowing muscles may also be affected.

This condition is treated with oral steroids to slow down the disease's progression. Other medicines may also be used. Sometimes, medicines such as azathioprine or methotrexate may be started at the same time as oral steroids. This helps prevent some of the complications of long-term steroid use. In some cases, these medicines may only be used if you fail oral steroid treatment. Some patients will recover completely. Others will need treatment over their lifetime.

Dermatomyositis may be associated with a higher risk of certain types of cancer. These include ovarian, stomach, lymphoma. Your healthcare provider may do periodic screening exams.

Home care

The following guidelines will help you care for yourself at home:

  • The rash is sensitive to sun exposure. Protect yourself from the sun with hats and cover-up clothing and use sunscreen of at least SPF 15.

  • If you have muscle aches, rest as needed.

  • Light exercise and physical activity can help keep your muscles in the best shape possible. Talk with your healthcare provider about an exercise plan that is right for you. You may need to see a physical therapist.

  • You may use over-the-counter medicine as directed to control pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, talk with your healthcare provider before using these medicines. Don’t take ibuprofen or other NSAID medicines if you were prescribed prednisone.

  • Talk with your healthcare provider before trying to get pregnant.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. For more information contact the following:

  • Myositis Association

  • Arthritis Foundation 

When to seek medical care

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur.

  • Blood in the stool (black or red color)

  • Change in bowel or bladder habits

  • Cough or hoarseness that doesn't go away

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Pain in abdomen

  • Thickening or lump in the breast or elsewhere

  • Unexpected weight loss

  • Vision changes

Call 911

Call 911 if you have:

  • Dizziness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Weakness 

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