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: Dawn, 45-54 Female (Patient) Published: March 31

My symptoms of polymyositis started about 8 years ago. When I would try to reach my arms over my head to grab the back of my shirt to undress myself I could no longer do so, and I also noticed if trying to hold anything away from my body or over my head I would drop it. My head felt too heavy for my neck, and I then started noticing that when working in the barn with my horses that my thigh and butt muscles would burn. I thought I was getting a great workout only to realize that I could no longer rise from a seated position without using my arms. Still I thought it was because I was getting older. Then I began to fall. I work in a hospital so I went to employee health where they took labs to find my CPK level at 2400. They hospitalized me for 4 days to find nothing, then I found another doctor. My CPK level has gone as high as 2800 but never lower than 800.

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Comment from: AUTOPRO, 55-64 Male (Patient) Published: May 13

I was told I had polymyositis 3 months ago. At age 54 my performance on the bike started dropping and I started having trouble breathing. I was a triathlete and was very strong. I also had stomach pain and had a flare up where I was so weak I couldn't button my shirt to go to work. They put me on prednisone 40 mg. My numbers got better quickly and they reduced me to 15 mg. I still ride although I'm at 50 percent of the strength I had before. I still have skin problems and my hands turn purple when it's cold.

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