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Understanding Myositis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Myositis, a term derived from the Greek words "myo," meaning muscle, and "itis," indicating inflammation, describes a rare group of conditions characterized by muscle inflammation, weakness, fatigue, and pain. The affected muscles are primarily those around the shoulders, hips, and thighs, although myositis can potentially impact other body parts, including the skin, lungs, or heart. It can also affect muscles involved in breathing and swallowing.


Myositis can strike individuals of any age, including children, and has a wide range of associated conditions. It is important to note that myositis is an autoimmune condition where the immune system, typically responsible for protecting the body against infections and illnesses, mistakenly attacks healthy tissues.


This phenomenon can cause unwarranted inflammation even in the absence of infections. In a healthy immune response, inflammation serves as a crucial mechanism to combat infections, but in autoimmune conditions, it can lead to complications.


man suffering from a back pain


Types of Myositis

There are several forms of myositis, diagnosed based on symptoms and affected muscles. Some of the primary types include:


  • Polymyositis: This form affects multiple muscles simultaneously, typically those near the body's center. It develops gradually, often in adults, with women being twice as likely to develop polymyositis as men. Symptoms include difficulty standing up after sitting, climbing stairs, lifting objects, and reaching overhead.

  • Dermatomyositis: Dermatomyositis affects both the skin and muscles. While it can develop slowly, in some cases, it progresses rapidly. Dermatomyositis may cause skin rashes and can be fatal in rare instances. It can also increase the risk of certain cancers. Juvenile dermatomyositis occurs when children are affected.

  • Anti-synthetase syndrome: This condition involves inflammation in multiple areas of the body, including muscles, lungs, and skin. It may also be associated with Raynaud's phenomenon, where fingers and toes change color and feel cold when exposed to cold temperatures. Although some people may be misdiagnosed with polymyositis or dermatomyositis, anti-synthetase syndrome is now considered a separate condition.

  • Immune-mediated necrotizing myopathy: This recent discovery causes muscle cells to rapidly undergo necrosis (cell death). The resultant weakness is often severe, affecting the ability to walk and use arms. In rare cases, statin medications can trigger this condition.

  • Post-infectious reactive myositis: Occurring during or after viral infections, this form of myositis can cause inflammation even after the virus has been cleared. It usually manifests as muscle pain and weakness and is typically mild, often resolving without treatment.

  • Inclusion body myositis: This degenerative muscle disease typically affects individuals older than 50 and causes muscle weakness in the hands, legs below the knees, and throat muscles, leading to difficulty swallowing (dysphagia).


man feeling in pain


Symptoms of Myositis

The symptoms of myositis can vary significantly depending on the specific condition. However, some common symptoms include:


  • Difficulty standing up from a seated position

  • Trouble climbing stairs or lifting arms

  • Fatigue after prolonged standing or walking

  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing

  • Persistent muscle pain

  • Red or purple rash on the eyelids, elbows, knees, or knuckles


Causes and Risk Factors

Myositis can affect individuals across ethnicities and genders. However, certain demographic factors increase the risk. Juvenile myositis affects children between 5 and 15 years old.


Women are twice as likely to develop dermatomyositis and polymyositis, while inclusion body myositis is more common in men. The risk of polymyositis and inclusion body myositis increases with age.


Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis of myositis usually begins with a physical examination, followed by various diagnostic tools, including blood tests, muscle biopsy, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), electromyography (EMG), or lumbar puncture (spinal tap).


Treatment for myositis is highly specialized and tailored to the individual's symptoms and severity. Therapies may include drug-based and non-drug-based approaches.


Medications such as immunosuppressants or corticosteroids may be used to slow the immune system's attack on muscles, skin, and organs. Physical therapy can help improve physical activity and quality of life.


man lying down and in pain



Myositis encompasses a group of rare autoimmune disorders characterized by muscle inflammation, fatigue, and pain. This complex condition has several subtypes, each presenting unique symptoms and impacting different muscles or body parts. While the underlying mechanism involves an aberrant immune response attacking healthy tissues, leading to unwarranted inflammation, the exact cause of myositis remains largely unknown.


Diagnosing myositis requires a comprehensive approach, involving physical examination, blood tests, imaging, and invasive methods such as muscle biopsies. Treatment plans are highly individualized and typically include both pharmaceutical interventions to modulate the immune response and physical therapy to enhance the patient's functional capacity and quality of life.


It is essential for clinicians, researchers, and patients to work collaboratively to understand and manage myositis effectively. Advancements in research and the development of targeted therapies hold promise for improved outcomes and a better quality of life for individuals affected by myositis.


Equally important is the need for heightened awareness of myositis and its various subtypes within the healthcare community and among the general public to enable timely diagnosis, prompt initiation of treatment, and optimal patient support. The complexities of myositis necessitate a multifaceted approach to treatment and a commitment to continued research and education on this rare but impactful group of autoimmune disorders.


What are the first signs of myositis?

The early signs of myositis include muscle weakness, fatigue, difficulty in standing or lifting, trouble swallowing or breathing, joint pain, and skin rash in the case of dermatomyositis.

Can myositis be cured?

While there is no outright cure for myositis, treatments can help manage symptoms and improve the quality of life for individuals. Early diagnosis and appropriate medical interventions play a crucial role in effective management.

How do you stop myositis from progressing?

Myositis progression can be slowed with medications that suppress the immune system's attack on muscles and reduce inflammation. Regular exercise, physical therapy, a balanced diet, and a healthy lifestyle can also contribute to managing the condition.

What foods are good for myositis?

A diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats can benefit individuals with myositis. Omega-3 fatty acids in fish, flaxseeds, and walnuts may help reduce inflammation.

What is the best medication for myositis?

The choice of medication depends on the type and severity of myositis. Immunosuppressants and corticosteroids are commonly prescribed to manage inflammation. Consultation with a healthcare provider is essential to determine the most suitable treatment approach.