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Diseases

Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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 a type of inflammatory myopathy, which refers to a group of muscle diseases characterized by chronic muscle inflammation and weakness. It involves skeletal muscles (those involved with making movement) on both sides of the body. Although it can affect people of all ages, most cases are seen in adults between the ages of 31 and 60.[1] The exact cause of polymyositis is unknown; however, the disease shares many characteristics with autoimmune disorders which occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy body tissues. It some cases, the condition may be associated with viral infections, malignancies, or connective tissue disorders. Although there is no cure for polymyositis, treatment can improve muscle strength and function.[1][2][3]
Last updated: 9/9/2015

What are the symptoms of polymyositis?

Polymyositis is characterized by chronic muscle inflammation and weakness involving the skeletal muscles (those involved with making movement) on both sides of the body.[1] Weakness generally starts in the proximal muscles which can eventually cause difficulties climbing stairs, rising from a sitting position, lifting objects, or reaching overhead. In some cases, distal muscles may also be affected as the disease progresses.[1]

Other symptoms may include arthritis; shortness of breath; difficulty swallowing and speaking; mild joint or muscle tenderness; fatigue, and heart arrhythmias.[1][2]
Last updated: 9/10/2015

How might polymyositis be treated?

The treatment of polymyositis is based on the signs and symptoms present in each person. Although there is currently no cure, symptoms of the condition may be managed with the following:[4][5][2]
  • Medications such as corticosteroids, corticosteroid-sparing agents, immunosuppressive drugs
  • Physical therapy to improve muscle strength and flexibility
  • Speech therapy to address difficulties with swallowing and speech
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (healthy antibodies are given to block damaging autoantibodies that attack muscle)

Medscape Reference's Web site offers more specific information regarding the treatment and management of polymyositis. Please click on the link to access the resource.
Last updated: 9/10/2015

What is the long-term outlook for people with polymyositis?

The long-term outlook (prognosis) for people with polymyositis varies. Most affected people respond well to treatment and regain muscle strength, although a certain degree of muscle weakness may persist in some cases.[3] If the treatment is not effective, people may develop significant disability.[1]

In rare cases, people with severe and progressive muscle weakness will develop respiratory failure or pneumonia. Difficulty swallowing may cause weight loss and malnutrition.[1]
Last updated: 9/10/2015

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.