Myopathy

What is myopathy?

Myopathy is a general term that refers to diseases that affect muscles in the body, also known as neuromuscular disorders. If you are experiencing muscle paralysis, weakness, stiffness, cramps, spasms, or inflammation, this may be an indication that you might be suffering from myopathy. 

Most cases of myopathy often begin from shoulders, hips, neck and thighs, though at times may start with weakness in the extremities of your body such as your hands and feet. 

Myopathies can be categorized into two groups – inherited and acquired myopathy. Individuals who have inherited myopathy show symptoms of myopathy for an extended duration of time at birth or an early age. On the other hand, individuals who experience myopathy at a later stage in life are more likely to have acquired myopathy.

One common example of myopathy is inclusion body myositis (IBM). IBM is typically seen in adults over the age of 50 and most often in the elderly. It is characterized by slow, progressive muscle weakness, especially in the thighs and forearms, over the course of a few months or years.

How will having myopathy affect me?

There are a few ways in which myopathy may affect you in your daily life, the most significant of which being increased fatigue. You may find yourself getting tired or losing focus more easily. Activities such as walking, drying your hair, putting on clothes or even writing may become difficult chores if your myopathy is severe enough. 

Besides fatigue, having myopathy may affect both your physical and mental health as well. Pain associated with myopathy is often described as a ‘burning’ sensation in the muscle, and may bring you discomfort. Myopathy may also increase your risk of anxiety disorders and depression.

What does having myopathy feel like?

The main tell-tale sign of myopathy is muscle paralysis or weakness, though symptoms differ depending on the type of myopathy and its development stage. With myopathy, you will most likely find it more difficult to move around as well. 

In serious cases, you may also experience difficulties with speaking, swallowing or even breathing. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to consult a doctor and seek medical attention immediately.

What are the causes and risk factors of myopathy?

Inherited myopathy is caused by genetic defects, and usually appears at birth or in the early stages of life. On the other hand, acquired myopathy may be a result of dehydration, excessive consumption of alcohol, infection, muscle inflammation or even medications such as cholesterol-lowering drugs that may damage muscles. Medical conditions such as metabolic, thyroid or endocrine disorders may result in myopathy as well. 

If you have a family history of myopathy, you will have a higher chance of developing this condition. If you have pre-existing medical conditions such as autoimmune, metabolic, endocrine or thyroid disorders, this may increase your chances of having myopathy as well. 

Myopathy affects everyone of all ages. However, children between the ages of 5 to 10 and adults above the age of 50 are more likely to develop myopathy. Studies have also shown that women are more prone to developing myopathy as well [1]. 

How is myopathy diagnosed?

Medical examination. When visiting a doctor, your doctor will most likely conduct a thorough medical examination and order some blood tests before definitively diagnosing you with myopathy. Your doctor may ask you about your medical history and family history as well. 

Electromyogram (EMG). In some cases, your doctor may conduct an EMG, which measures the electrical activity of your nerves and muscles. There are two parts to an EMG. 

The first part comprises of nerve conduction studies (NCS), which measures the rate at which electrical impulses move through your nerves. During this test, small patches which deliver electrical pulses will be attached to your skin. This process may cause you some discomfort depending on the strength of the electrical pulse but is generally painless. 

The second part is known as a needle electrode examination, which measures the electrical activities in your muscles. During this test, five or more thin needles will be inserted into your muscle. You may experience a slight pain during the insertion of the needles. However, this test is otherwise painless as well.

Muscle biopsy. Lastly, your doctor may perform a muscle biopsy, in which a piece of muscle tissue will be removed and examined microscopically. A muscle biopsy is usually conducted by inserting a biopsy needle into the muscle, wherein a small piece of tissue will remain. The alternative is known as an ‘open biopsy’, whereby a small surgical incision is made to remove a piece of tissue. 

How do I prevent myself from developing myopathy?

Unfortunately, there are currently no known ways of preventing myopathy as it is usually inherited.

How can I manage my myopathy?

Treatments of myopathy depend on the type and cause of the condition. In certain cases, immunosuppressants can be used to treat myopathy. Immunosuppressants are drugs that decrease the body’s immune responses but in turn treat inflammation of muscles that are associated with myopathies such as dermatomyositis and polymyositis. 

Physiotherapy and occupational therapy can also be used to treat myopathy. This will aid in improving and preserving muscle strength and mobility, reduce pain, and improve your overall quality of life. 

In some cases, surgery may be considered. 

If you are currently experiencing symptoms of myopathy, visit a doctor and seek medical attention immediately. 

References

  1. Skilving, I., Eriksson, M., Rane, A., & Ovesjö, M.-L. (2016). Statin-induced myopathy in a usual care setting-a prospective observational study of gender differences. European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, 72(10), 1171–1176. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00228-016-2105-2 
  2. Myopathy Information Page | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. (2019). Nih.Gov. https://www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/All-Disorders/Myopathy-Information-Page