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Tackling dermatomyositis ahead of Women’s Day: Orthopaedic issues, treatment tips for women with rare autoimmune disease

While March 08 is marked annually as International Women’s Day, the whole month is Autoimmune Disease Awareness Month and Dermatomyositis, an autoimmune disorder affecting the muscles and skin in young women, has been a subject of intrigue and concern in the medical community. The untimely death of Dangal actor Suhani Bhatnagar recently, due to dermatomyositis, makes it more crucial to delve into the nuances of this rare condition and explore the key aspects of its diagnosis, treatment and prognosis.

Tackling dermatomyositis ahead of International Women’s Day 2024: Orthopaedic complications, diagnosis, treatment tips for women with rare autoimmune disease (Photo by Huge Domains)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Uma Kumar, Head of Rheumatology at AIIMS, shed light on the demographic patterns of dermatomyositis and stated, “It is more common in females, with a bimodal peak occurrence in young adults and around 50. We frequently encounter patients, especially young ladies in the second and third decades, as well as a peak around the age of 50. The disease has various mimics, including infections, drugs, malignancies, or para-malignant conditions. Early detection is crucial to prevent complications involving respiratory, cardiac, or swallowing muscles.”

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Talking about treatment strategies, she emphasised the importance of early intervention and said, “We have various medicines available, including steroids, immunosuppressive agents and biologic agents. The response to treatment is generally favourable, with only about 5% of patients experiencing a serious course. The prognosis is good, with more than 95% of patients surviving with proper treatment. However, relapses, infections and malignancies can occur over time. Timely and appropriate treatment is key, as complications often arise due to heart or lung muscle involvement.”

Providing insights into the orthopaedic aspects of dermatomyositis, Dr L Tomar, Senior Director and Unit Head of Orthopaedics at Max Super Speciality Hospital in New Delhi, said, “This rare autoimmune disease primarily affects muscles and skin, with a prevalence of around 1 in 100,000 individuals. Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive drugs are commonly used for managing inflammation, while physical therapy helps maintain muscle function. Survival rates vary but early diagnosis and proper medical management significantly improve outcomes.”

Highlighting orthopaedic complications, he said, “Joint inflammation can lead to pain and stiffness, while muscle weakness may contribute to difficulties in maintaining joint function, potentially causing contractures. Early intervention with physical therapy and medications is essential to manage these aspects and prevent further complications.”

Dermatomyositis presents unique challenges, requiring a multidisciplinary approach for effective management. The above insights underscore the importance of early diagnosis, appropriate treatment and ongoing medical monitoring to enhance the quality of life for individuals grappling with this autoimmune disorder.

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