We’ve all had those days when it’s a bit of a struggle getting out of a chair or walking up or down a flight of stairs. Maybe we put in a tough workout the day before or overdid it chasing after the grandkids. Our muscles may feel a bit weak, but give it a day or two, and we’re back in action.
While occasional muscle weakness or fatigue can be perfectly normal, prolonged swelling, weakness or muscle damage may be a sign of something more serious: a condition known as myositis.
What is Myositis?
Myositis is inflammation of the muscle. It’s different from sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass caused in part by protein deficiency and decreased physical activity which is fairly common in older adults. With sarcopenia, muscles are actually breaking down, which can look like weight loss. With myositis, muscles may actually be swollen because of the inflammation.
While you can get a bout of myositis after taking certain medications or from an infection, it’s when muscle weakness is chronic that is cause for concern. That chronic myositis is often due to an autoimmune reaction, meaning the body is fighting itself and causing the muscles to become inflamed. In many cases there is no known cause.
Risks for Developing Myositis
There are several types of chronic myositis, some of which are associated with aging, meaning that the risk of being diagnosed with the condition increases as people get older:
- Polymyositis is general muscle weakness of the shoulders, hips and other muscles close to the center of the body. It tends to be diagnosed more in women between the ages of 30 and 60.
- Dermatomyositis has a noticeable skin rash, usually on the eyelids, face, hands, upper chest or back, that happens before or with feelings of muscle weakness. It affects both adults and children.
- Inclusion body myositis (IBM) is muscle weakness and inflammation that is very slow to develop. It is diagnosed most often in people ages 50 and older, and it affects more men than women. Sometimes the muscle weakness is in just one side of the body.
Myositis can be genetic, and people with autoimmune disorders like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are also at increased risk for developing the chronic disease.
Myositis Diagnosis and Treatment
Myositis can be hard to diagnose because its symptoms – namely muscle weakness – can be similar to other conditions, including sarcopenia or protein deficiency. Signs to look out for include:
- Tripping or falling often
- Difficulty getting up from a chair
- Having a hard time climbing stairs
- Struggling with holding things in the hands
- Difficulty swallowing food
In addition to collecting a medical history, doctors may run blood tests or conduct muscle biopsies to diagnose myositis.
Dealing with Myositis
Because there are several types of myositis, and because each person is different, treatments for the disease can vary. Some may be given immunosuppressants or anti-inflammatories such as steroids. Other people may find that steroids exacerbate their muscle weakness. Only your personal care physician can develop a treatment plan that’s right for you.
Some people can manage their myositis with regular physical activity to help strengthen muscles and improve stamina. Often the muscle weakness is seen in shoulders, hips and thighs, so yoga and stretching exercises that lengthen those muscles may help with range of motion. Your doctor may order some physical therapy sessions to help target the inflamed muscles.
What About Diet?
While there’s no magic food or nutrient that’s been shown to help manage myositis specifically, an overall healthy diet can help promote general well-being. Eating anti-inflammatory foods like salmon or other fatty fish, leafy green vegetables, nuts and oils may also help with tamping down inflammation and flare-ups. Following a Mediterranean-style diet that emphasizes fatty fish and plant proteins over animal proteins, and oils instead of solid fats, is another strategy.
- Seafood, both fish and shellfish
- Dairy foods, like milk, yogurt and cheese
- Beans and legumes, including lentils, soybeans (edamame), and hummus
- Nuts and nut butter
- Meat, like beef, chicken, turkey and pork
- Protein drinks, which can be a convenient option for those experiencing fatigue
Can You Prevent Myositis?
Myositis tends to be caused by genetics, which means there isn’t a lot you can do to prevent it. If you already have an autoimmune disease, that can increase the risk of developing the disease as well. As with any potential illness, the best defense is a good offense – that means, do your best to follow a healthy diet and find ways incorporate physical activity into your day. Consider exercises that help strengthen and lengthen your muscles, as well as movements to promote balance and stability to help prevent falls.