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Autoimmune Diseases, Dermatomyositis

Ask the Harvard Experts: Dermatomyositis Requires More Than Steroids

By Robert Schmerling, M.D.
Q: My 70-year old sister has had dermatomyositis for more than a year. Her muscles, joints, skin and lungs have been affected. She has not responded well to treatment with steroids. Are there any alternatives? I read somewhere about transfusions of immune globulin. Is this a reputable treatment?

A: Dermatomyositis is a condition of unknown cause marked by rash and inflammation of the muscles. Muscles become weak and sore. Other organs, including the lungs and joints, can also be inflamed.

The diagnosis is usually suspected based on a combination of symptoms (especially the typical rash over the eyes and upper chest, along with muscle weakness), physical examination, blood tests and special testing of muscle function. A biopsy is usually required to confirm the diagnosis. There are muscle disorders that can closely mimic dermatomyositis and that may be less responsive to treatment, so it’s important that the diagnosis be clearly established.
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