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Diseases

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Polymyositis


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Your Question

My mother has polymyositis. How might this condition be treated?

Our Answer

We have identified the following information that we hope you find helpful. If you still have questions, please contact us.

What is polymyositis?

Polymyositis is one of a group of muscle diseases known as the inflammatory myopathies, which are characterized by chronic muscle inflammation accompanied by muscle weakness.  Polymyositis affects skeletal muscles (those involved with making movement) on both sides of the body.  It is rarely seen in persons under age 18; most cases are seen in adults between the ages of 31 and 60.[1] The cause of polymyositis is not fully understood.[2][3] Although there's no cure for polymyositis, treatment can improve muscle strength and function.[1][2]
Last updated: 4/22/2009

What are the symptoms of polymyositis?

Polymyositis is characterized by chronic muscle inflammation accompanied by muscle weakness. This condition affects skeletal muscles (those involved with making movement) on both sides of the body.[1] Slow, but progressive muscle weakness starts in the proximal muscles (muscles closest to the trunk of the body - those in the hips, thighs, shoulders, upper arms and neck) which eventually leads to difficulties climbing stairs, rising from a sitting position, lifting objects, or reaching overhead. People with polymyositis may also experience arthritis, shortness of breath, difficulty swallowing and speaking, mild joint or muscle tenderness, fatigue, and heart arrhythmias.[1][2]  In some cases of polymyositis, distal muscles (muscles further away from the trunk of the body, such as those in the forearms and around the ankles and wrists) may be affected as the disease progresses.[1]  

 

Last updated: 4/22/2009

How might polymyositis be treated?

Unfortunately, there is no cure for polymyositis, but treatment can improve muscle strength.  Treatment for polymyositis aims to reduce harmful immune responses that cause the muscle inflammation associated with this condition.  Corticosteroids, particularly prednisone, are medications that decrease immune responses.  Medications such as azathioprine or methotrexate may be used to suppress the immune system if polymyositis does not respond to corticosteroids.  Another therapy used to treat muscle inflammation is a medication called tacrolimus.  Antibody therapy can be given to block damaging antibodies.  Physical therapy is usually recommended to maintain and improve muscle strength.[2]

Though these have not been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, investigational treatments for polymyositis include the medications rituximab, etanercept and infliximab.[2]

Additional details regarding treatment of polymyositis can be found by clicking here.
Last updated: 11/24/2010

What is the prognosis for individuals with polymyositis?

Most individuals with polymyositis respond well to treatment and regain muscle strength, though some muscle weakness may still persist.[3]  If therapies are not effective, individuals may develop significant disability.[1]
Last updated: 11/24/2010

References
See Disclaimer regarding information on this site. Some links on this page may take you to organizations outside of the National Institutes of Health.