Polymyositis is a rare condition that affects your muscles. It begins by inflaming and weakening the muscles near your abdomen and can move to other muscles as it progresses. It occurs mostly in adults in midlife (from 31 to 60) and is more frequently reported by women.

Treatment can help manage symptoms and decrease the likelihood of flares. The condition cannot be cured, but when it’s well managed, you may have no symptoms.

Polymyositis is a type of idiopathic inflammatory myopathy (IIM). These are considered systematic autoimmune disorders, and they affect your skeletal muscles.

There is not a specific cause of this condition or other IIMs. Risk factors that may contribute to it include:

  • immune system disorders
  • viral infections
  • connective tissue disorders
  • breathing diseases
  • risk for cancerous cells

There’s not a genetic link to the condition, but you may have other risk factors in your family history that increase the likelihood of developing it.

The most obvious symptoms of the condition concern your muscles. Weakness, pain, or tenderness may occur first in the muscles attached to your abdomen and move to other muscle groups, including:

Over time, even more muscles can be affected, including muscles in your forearms, hands, fingers, ankles, and toes.

Other symptoms related to muscle weakness can include:

You may also notice changes to your movements because of the condition like:

  • falling
  • trouble picking yourself up from the ground or a seated position
  • difficulty climbing stairs
  • struggling to lift heavy objects
  • inability to reach for objects
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Illustration by Alexis Lira

A doctor will need to officially diagnose polymyositis. This visit could involve:

  • discussing your symptoms
  • getting a physical exam
  • reviewing your family and personal health history
  • using blood tests to look for and identify certain autoantibodies
  • having imaging scans done to help the doctor get a better look at your muscles and nerves and to look for possible inflammation
  • having a muscle biopsy can help determine whether your muscles are swollen, infected, or physically altered

These various tools can help the doctor make an accurate assessment of your condition and start you on the right treatment plan.

You may want to keep a journal of your symptoms and reach out to family members, especially older ones, to discuss your family medical history before your diagnosis appointment.

Polymyositis vs. dermatomyositis

Dermatomyositis is an IIM but has additional symptoms that affect the skin. Children and adults can have this condition.

Your doctor can determine the type of IIM you have through blood tests, imaging scans, and a muscle biopsy. Up to 6 percent of people with dermatomyositis do not have symptoms on their skin.

Some of the symptoms found on the skin include:

These symptoms can be triggered by the sun and can be itchy.

There is no cure for the condition, but you may be able to treat it so that symptoms are manageable or nonexistent for long stretches of time. It’s possible that your symptoms may become so controlled with treatment that eventually you won’t need to take anything to manage the condition.

The type of treatment you receive depends on where you are in the progression of the condition. Consult with your doctor about the right plan for you. Medication for the condition can include:

  • corticosteroids taken orally daily or intermittently for short periods of time
  • immunosuppressants for long-term treatment
  • possible use of intravenous (IV) immunoglobulin to treat progressed symptoms

Nonmedication treatments for polymyositis

These treatments tend to provide the best results when used as part of a holistic treatment plan, alongside medical treatments.

Delaying treatment can make the condition worse. Do not assume that home-based treatments will take care of it. This can delay proper diagnosis and treatment. This condition occurs throughout your body, and it may affect parts that you cannot see or feel directly.

Is walking good for polymyositis?

Exercise can be beneficial for the condition, and your doctor could consider it a treatment method.

Studies have concluded that exercise may reduce symptoms and inflammatory markers and improve muscle tissue for those with polymyositis.

Be mindful of your activity before engaging in it. Do not strain yourself. Ease into harder and longer exercises over time, and make sure to stretch before and after. Do not exercise with flaring symptoms.

It may be useful to consult a physical therapist to learn more about proper exercises for the condition. Your physical therapist may recommend a low impact activity like walking and may likely have more tips for how to avoid overdoing it and triggering your symptoms.

Polymyositis and pregnancy

If you have polymyositis, you are at increased risk of hypertensive disorders during pregnancy. Your doctor will monitor your blood pressure more often if you have this condition and are pregnant to avoid complications.

Talk with your doctor if you’re considering becoming pregnant. They can help create a treatment plan to keep you and your baby safe.

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Living with polymyositis can vary from person to person. Active symptoms of the condition could disappear with medical and lifestyle treatments. You may need to take medications like immunosuppressants for several years before the symptoms diminish completely. Many people recover completely from this condition.

Polymyositis is not usually considered life threatening. However, severe cases of the condition that do not respond well to treatment or that go untreated may result in:

Polymyositis is a condition that affects your muscles and other parts of your body. It’s a rare condition that not currently curable, but it is often treatable.

Your doctor can diagnose the condition with a range of tests and help determine a treatment plan that works for your needs.

You’ll likely need medication to manage symptoms. Exercising, getting enough rest, and eating well can also be helpful if you live with the condition. Your symptoms may eventually subside with the right management plan.