Polymyositis - Symptoms and Signs

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What are symptoms of polymyositis?

Weakness of muscles is the most common symptom of polymyositis. The muscles involved usually are those that are closest to the trunk of the body. The onset can be gradual or rapid. This results in varying degrees of loss of muscle power and atrophy. The loss of strength can be noticed as difficulty getting up from chairs, walking, climbing stairs, or lifting above the shoulders. Trouble with swallowing and weakness lifting the head from the pillow can occur. Occasionally, the muscles ache and are tender to the touch.

Patients can also feel fatigue, a general feeling of discomfort, and have weight loss and/or low-grade fever.

With skin involvement (dermatomyositis), the eyes can be surrounded by a violet discoloration with swelling. There can be scaly reddish discoloration over the knuckles, elbows, and knees (Gottron's sign). There can also be reddish rash on the face, neck, and upper chest. Hard lumps of calcium deposits can develop in the fatty layer of the skin, most commonly in childhood dermatomyositis.

Heart and lung involvement can lead to irregular heart rhythm, heart failure, and inflammation of the lungs with shortness of breath.

Because polymyositis can appear in combination with other illnesses (see related articles on systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis), it can also have overlap features with them. These illnesses are discussed elsewhere.

Both polymyositis and dermatomyositis can sometimes be associated with cancers, including lymphoma, breast cancer, lung cancer, ovarian cancer, and colon cancer. The cancer risk is reported to be much greater with dermatomyositis than polymyositis.

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Comment from: Ross, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: April 22

I am currently just getting started in trying to find out what is wrong with me. I have had Raynaud's for about 3 years. My fingers freeze up and turn white when they are cold. Also I sometimes choke when I eat. I just thought that was because I was eating fast. And for the last 5 months my arms from my shoulders to my fingers are in pain all of the time. I have lost muscle in my arms and my upper body. My CPK level is 585 and has been higher over the last 5 years. I think I might have polymyositis but am still going for more tests. I will see a neurologist next week.

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Comment from: LauraB, 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: March 18

I developed polymyositis sometime in 2007. At this time we are thinking I may have gotten it when I worked on a contaminated uranium clean-up site that I was working at. I have always been healthy and very active. About 3 months after leaving the site I started to notice weakness in my upper arms. I contributed that to getting older. As the months wore on I lost weight, could barely walk, had slurred speech and my head was resting on my chest as I have no muscle strength left in my neck. I was admitted into the hospital in September 2007. The diagnosis took a couple of weeks after tests were conducted. The muscles in my body were so withered it was almost impossible to analyze but enough tissue was there that they could. I was diagnosed with a hybrid dermatomyositis/polymyositis. I was in the hospital for over 4 months. I had a tracheotomy and was placed on a respirator to breath and had a g-tube placed in my stomach for nourishment. I also had a PIC line installed so that I could have blood taken and necessary treatment given to me without trying to find a vein. After 4 months I was transferred to a nursing home. I managed a month there and finally came home. I was 85 pounds and so weak I could barely walk. I had a wheelchair at first, graduated to a walker, then a cane and finally I am on my own two feet. I have had ups and downs and lots of frustration. But I never give up. I have found that acupuncture really helps with the muscle issues; healthy eating does work and avoiding all read meats because of the inflammation caused by it. Fish, Chicken are the best foods to eat. There are naturopathic diets that deal specifically with this disease and really help immensely. Also vitamin D3 and calcium are a must. I have also been introduced to Asian herbs specifically dealing with my disease and that has helped tremendously. Do your research on what you have and think out of the box. Doing different things outside of the medical world has worked well for me.

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