Polymyositis (pol-e-my-o-SY-tis) is an uncommon inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness affecting both sides of your body. Having this condition can make it difficult to climb stairs, rise from a seated position, lift objects or reach overhead.
Polymyositis most commonly affects adults in their 30s, 40s, or 50s. Women are affected more often than men. Signs and symptoms usually develop gradually, over weeks or months.
While there is no cure for polymyositis, treatment — ranging from medications to physical therapy — can improve your muscle strength and function.
The muscle weakness associated with polymyositis involves the muscles closest to the trunk, such as those in your hips, thighs, shoulders, upper arms, and neck. The weakness affects both the left and right sides of your body and tends to gradually worsen.
The condition affects muscles all over the body and can affect the ability to run, walk, or lift objects. It can also affect the muscles that allow you to eat and breathe. The muscles that are closest to the center of the body tend to be affected the most often.
The common symptoms of polymyositis include:
- Muscle pain and stiffness
- Muscle weakness, particularly in the belly (abdomen), shoulders, upper arms, and hips
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Trouble catching your breath
- Problems with swallowing
- Irregular heart rhythms, if the heart muscle becomes inflamed
Polymyositis can make it hard to do everyday things. You may notice trouble walking up a flight of stairs, lifting up your arms, or getting out of your chair. As inflammation gets worse around the body, pain and weakness may affect the ankles, wrists, and lower arm area.
Weight loss and poor nutrition may become a problem if muscle weakness leads to trouble eating and swallowing.
How is polymyositis diagnosed?
The process starts with a health history and a physical exam. The exam will include seeing how strong your muscles are. You may need tests such as:
- Blood tests. These are done to look for signs of muscle inflammation. They also check for abnormal proteins that form in autoimmune diseases.
- Electromyogram (EMG). This may be done to find abnormal electrical activity in affected muscles.
- MRI. This test uses large magnets and a computer to look for inflammation in the body.
- Muscle biopsy. Tiny pieces of tissue are taken to be checked with a microscope.
Can polymyositis be prevented?
There is no known way to prevent polymyositis because the exact cause is not known. In some cases where medicines may be to blame, stopping these medicines can prevent future episodes of the condition. Don’t stop taking any medicine without your doctor’s approval.
The exact cause of polymyositis is not known. It most often happens in people ages 31 to 60. It rarely occurs in people younger than 18. Experts think that polymyositis may be related to or triggered by a virus or an autoimmune reaction. An autoimmune reaction is when the body attacks its own tissues. In some cases, a medicine may lead to an allergic response that causes muscle irritation and damage. But in most cases, healthcare providers aren’t able to find the exact cause of the condition.
Natural Therapies for Polymyositis
Ganoderma lucidum, known as reishi, comes from a tree fungus used in China and Japan for the treatment of autoimmune diseases. It is believed to affect the immune system, but it is not known if it strengthens it. It has anti-inflammatory properties and is an antioxidant. The Lahey Clinic reports, however, that at this date there have been no reliable double-blind placebo-controlled studies done to verify this.
He also reports vitamin D inhibits proinflammatory processes by suppressing the enhanced activity of immune cells taking part in the autoimmune reaction.
Oral creatine supplements combined with at-home exercises are said to improve functional muscle performance and is used for this purpose by athletes. However, the National Institutes of Health reports there is insufficient evidence to rate its effectiveness for the treatment of polymyositis
Your risk of polymyositis is higher if you have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, or Sjogren’s syndrome.
Possible complications of polymyositis include:
- Difficulty swallowing. If the muscles in your esophagus are affected, you may have problems swallowing (dysphagia), which in turn may cause weight loss and malnutrition.
- Aspiration pneumonia. Difficulty swallowing may also cause you to breathe food or liquids, including saliva, into your lungs (aspiration), which can lead to pneumonia.
- Breathing problems. If your chest muscles are affected by the disease, you may experience breathing problems, such as shortness of breath or, in severe cases, respiratory failure.
How is polymyositis treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, your age, and your general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. There’s no cure for polymyositis, but the symptoms can be managed. You may need more than one kind of treatment. And your treatment may need to be changed over time. In severe cases, some treatments don’t work as well. Treatments include:
- Anti-inflammatory medicines. These are steroid medicines or corticosteroids. They ease inflammation in the body. Symptoms usually get better within 4 to 6 weeks. Your healthcare provider may lower the dose of steroids after that to ease side effects. Some people may need to take steroids ongoing to manage the disease and reduce symptoms.
- Immunosuppressive medicines. These are medicines that block or slow down your body’s immune system.
- Physical therapy. This includes special exercises that help to stretch and strengthen the muscles. These can help keep muscles from shrinking.
- Heat therapy and rest. These can help ease muscle symptoms.
- Braces or other special devices. These can help to support muscles and help with movement.
Talk with your healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.
- Polymyositis causes muscles to become irritated and inflamed. The muscles start to become weak. This can make even simple movements difficult.
- The condition can affect swallowing and breathing.
- Although it can’t be cured, the symptoms of polymyositis can be managed.
Although these are not complications, polymyositis is often associated with other conditions that may cause further complications of their own, or in combination with polymyositis symptoms. Associated conditions include:
- Raynaud’s phenomenon. This is a condition in which your fingers, toes, cheeks, nose, and ears initially turn pale when exposed to cold temperatures.
- Other connective tissue diseases. Other conditions, such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and Sjogren’s syndrome, can occur in combination with polymyositis.
- Cardiovascular disease. Polymyositis may cause the muscular walls of your heart to become inflamed (myocarditis). In a small number of people who have polymyositis, congestive heart failure and heart arrhythmias may develop.
- Lung disease. A condition called interstitial lung disease may occur with polymyositis. 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. People who have polymyositis have an elevated risk of cancer.
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