There’s no cure for dermatomyositis, but treatment can improve your skin and your muscle strength and function. The earlier treatment is started in the course of dermatomyositis, the more effective it is leading to fewer complications.
However, as with many conditions, no single approach is best; your doctor will tailor your treatment strategy based on your symptoms and how well they respond to therapy.
Therapy for dermatomyositis involves both general measures and specific measures to control the muscle disease and the skin disease. In addition, some patients with dermatomyositis need treatment for other systemic manifestations or complications.
The muscle component is treated by administering corticosteroids, typically with an immunosuppressive agent. The skin disease is treated by avoiding sun exposure and by using sunscreens and photoprotective clothing, as well as with topical corticosteroids, antimalarial agents, and immunomodulatory medications such as methotrexate, mycophenolate mofetil, or intravenous immunoglobulin.
Surgical care is usually unnecessary in the management of dermatomyositis. Some patients may benefit from surgical removal of focal areas of calcinosis, particularly those that are painful. Inpatient care is needed for patients with fulminant dermatomyositis with muscle and/or internal organ involvement.
Children and adolescents are much more prone to the development of calcinosis. Aggressive and early treatment may prevent this complication.
The most commonly used medications to treat dermatomyositis include:
- Corticosteroids. Drugs such as prednisone can be very effective in controlling dermatomyositis symptoms. But prolonged use of these drugs can have serious and wide-ranging side effects, which is why your doctor may gradually taper the dose of medication down to lower levels.
- Corticosteroid-sparing agents. When used in combination with a corticosteroid, these drugs can decrease the dose and potential side effects of the corticosteroid. The two most common medications used for dermatomyositis are azathioprine (Azasan, Imuran) and methotrexate (Trexall).
- Rituximab (Rituxan). More commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, rituximab is an option if initial therapies don’t adequately control your dermatomyositis symptoms.
- Antimalarial medications. For a persistent rash, your doctor may prescribe an antimalarial medication, such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil).
Surgical and other procedures
- Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIg). IVIg is a purified blood product that contains healthy antibodies from thousands of blood donors. These healthy antibodies can block the damaging antibodies that attack muscle and skin in dermatomyositis. Given as an infusion through a vein, IVIg treatments are expensive and may need to be repeated regularly for the effects to continue.
- Surgery. Surgery may be an option to remove painful calcium deposits and prevent recurrent skin infections.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor might suggest:
- Physical therapy. A physical therapist can show you exercises to maintain and improve your strength and flexibility and advise an appropriate level of activity.
- Speech therapy. If your swallowing muscles are weakened by dermatomyositis, speech therapy can help you learn how to compensate for those changes.
- Dietetic assessment. Later in the course of dermatomyositis, chewing and swallowing can become more difficult. A registered dietitian can teach you how to prepare easy-to-eat foods.