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Polymyositis is a rare autoimmune disease that affects the muscles, causing muscle weakness and inflammation. It is characterized by symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, shortness of breath, fatigue, weight loss, joint pain, and fever. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for polymyositis is crucial for those affected by this condition. In this article, we will delve into the details of polymyositis and provide valuable insights for managing and treating this disease.

Causes of Polymyositis

The exact cause of polymyositis is unknown, but it is believed to be an autoimmune disorder. In autoimmune diseases, the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. In the case of polymyositis, the immune system targets the muscles, leading to inflammation and muscle weakness. Certain factors may increase the risk of developing polymyositis, including:

  • Genetic predisposition
  • Environmental triggers
  • Viral infections

Symptoms of Polymyositis

Polymyositis primarily affects the skeletal muscles, which are responsible for voluntary movements. The most common symptoms of polymyositis include:

Muscle Weakness

One of the hallmark symptoms of polymyositis is muscle weakness. This weakness typically affects the muscles closest to the trunk of the body, such as the hips, thighs, shoulders, and upper arms. It can make everyday tasks, such as climbing stairs or lifting objects, challenging.

Difficulty Swallowing

Polymyositis can also affect the muscles involved in swallowing, leading to difficulty swallowing or dysphagia. This can result in choking or aspiration of food or liquids.

Shortness of Breath

In some cases, polymyositis can affect the muscles involved in breathing, leading to shortness of breath or respiratory difficulties. This symptom may worsen over time and can be life-threatening if not managed properly.


People with polymyositis often experience persistent fatigue, even after minimal physical activity. This fatigue can significantly impact daily life and may require lifestyle adjustments to conserve energy.

Weight Loss

Unexplained weight loss is another potential symptom of polymyositis. The combination of muscle weakness and decreased appetite can lead to unintentional weight loss.

Joint Pain

Some individuals with polymyositis may experience joint pain, stiffness, or swelling. This symptom can be mistaken for arthritis, but it is important to differentiate between the two conditions for proper diagnosis and treatment.


Occasionally, polymyositis may be accompanied by a low-grade fever. This fever is typically a result of the underlying inflammation in the muscles.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing polymyositis involves a combination of medical history evaluation, physical examination, blood tests, and imaging studies. A muscle biopsy may also be performed to confirm the diagnosis and rule out other conditions.

While there is no cure for polymyositis, treatment aims to manage symptoms, reduce inflammation, and improve muscle strength. The following treatment options may be recommended:


Immunosuppressant drugs, such as corticosteroids and methotrexate, are commonly prescribed to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. These medications can help alleviate symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease.

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy plays a crucial role in managing polymyositis. A tailored exercise program can help improve muscle strength, flexibility, and overall function. It is important to work with a physical therapist experienced in treating autoimmune muscle diseases.

Speech Therapy

For individuals experiencing difficulty swallowing, speech therapy can be beneficial. A speech therapist can provide techniques and exercises to improve swallowing function and reduce the risk of aspiration.

Assistive Devices

In some cases, assistive devices such as braces, canes, or walkers may be recommended to aid in mobility and reduce the risk of falls.

Living with Polymyositis

Living with polymyositis can be challenging, but there are strategies that can help individuals manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life:

  • Listen to your body and pace yourself. Rest when needed and avoid overexertion.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise, as tolerated.
  • Seek emotional support from friends, family, or support groups. Connecting with others who understand your experience can be invaluable.
  • Stay up-to-date with medical appointments and follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations.
  • Consider alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or massage, to complement conventional treatment.

It is important to remember that each individual’s experience with polymyositis is unique, and treatment plans may vary. Regular communication with healthcare providers is essential for monitoring symptoms, adjusting medications, and addressing any concerns.

In conclusion, polymyositis is a complex autoimmune disease that affects the muscles, causing weakness and inflammation. Recognizing the symptoms and seeking early medical intervention is crucial for managing the condition effectively. While there is no cure for polymyositis, various treatment options can help alleviate symptoms and improve quality of life. By adopting a comprehensive approach that includes medication, physical therapy, and lifestyle modifications, individuals with polymyositis can lead fulfilling lives despite the challenges posed by this condition.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
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