Dermatomyositis: Symptoms, causes, and treatment

Posted By on June 25, 2017

Dermatomyositis is a medical condition that causes muscle weakness and rashes.

According to The Johns Hopkins Myositis Center, women are twice as likely as men to experience dermatomyositis.

Although there is no cure for the condition, some treatments are available that can help to minimize symptoms.


doctor comforting a patient
The exact cause of dermatomyositis is unknown, but it may be that the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy muscle and blood cells.

Doctors do not know what causes dermatomyositis but there are many theories about why it develops.

According to the American College of Rheumatology, the most commonly accepted theory is that the body’s immune system attacks muscle cells and blood vessels by mistake.

Another theory suggests that dermatomyositis is caused by a virus that affects the skeletal muscles. Doctors also believe that some people are more susceptible to developing the condition due to their family history.


Symptoms of dermatomyositis appear gradually. The first symptom that a person may notice is a rash, which tends to be red and patchy in nature.

However, some people report a rash that is bluish-purple in color. The most common locations for the rash are in the following areas:

  • across the shoulders and upper back
  • over the knuckles, often with changes to the cuticles and nail beds
  • on the palms and fingers
  • over the elbows and knees
  • around the eyes
  • on the upper chest in a V shape

Sometimes a person will start to develop calcium deposits under the skin that may feel like hardened bumps to the touch. This is known as calcinosis and is common in children but not in adults with dermatomyositis.

Those with dermatomyositis often have “Gottron papules.” These are scaly, red areas that often appear over the knuckles.

The skin symptoms associated with dermatomyositis usually give way to muscle weakness, which is likely to progress over the course of weeks or months.

Additional symptoms associated with dermatomyositis include:

  • difficulty rising from a sitting to standing position
  • unexplained core weakness
  • pain or weakness in the joints, or both
  • problems swallowing
  • unexplained weakness
  • feeling tired all the time, even after resting

According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, an estimated 15 to 30 percent of people with dermatomyositis also experience:

  • lung involvement
  • problems breathing

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