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Skeletal muscle diseases, or myopathies, are disorders with structural changes or functional impairment of muscle. These conditions can be differentiated from other diseases of the motor unit (e.g., lower motor neuron or neuromuscular junction pathologies) by characteristic clinical and laboratory findings.

Myasthenia gravis and related disorders are discussed in Chap. 461; dermatomyositis, polymyositis, and inclusion body myositis are discussed in Chap. 388.


Most myopathies present with proximal, symmetric limb weakness (arms or legs) with preserved reflexes and sensation. However, asymmetric and predominantly distal weakness can be seen in some myopathies. An associated sensory loss suggests injury to a peripheral nerve or the central nervous system (CNS) rather than myopathy. On occasion, disorders affecting the motor nerve cell bodies in the spinal cord (anterior horn cell disease), the neuromuscular junction, or peripheral nerves can mimic findings of myopathy.

Muscle Weakness

Symptoms of muscle weakness can be either intermittent or persistent. Disorders causing intermittent weakness (Fig. 462e-1) include myasthenia gravis, periodic paralyses (hypokalemic, hyperkalemic, and paramyotonia congenita), and metabolic energy deficiencies of glycolysis (especially myophosphorylase deficiency), fatty acid utilization (carnitine palmitoyltransferase deficiency), and some mitochondrial myopathies. The states of energy deficiency cause activity-related muscle breakdown accompanied by myoglobinuria, appearing as light-brown- to dark-brown-colored urine.

FIGURE 462e-1

Diagnostic evaluation of intermittent weakness. AChR AB, acetylcholine receptor antibody; CPT, carnitine palmitoyltransferase; EOMs, extraocular muscles; MG, myasthenia gravis; PP, periodic paralysis.

Most muscle disorders cause persistent weakness (Fig. 462e-2). In the majority of these, including most types of muscular dystrophy, polymyositis, and dermatomyositis, the proximal muscles are weaker than the distal and are symmetrically affected, and the facial muscles are spared, a pattern referred to as limb-girdle. The differential diagnosis is more restricted for other patterns of weakness. Facial weakness (difficulty with eye closure and impaired smile) and scapular winging (Fig. 462e-3) are characteristic of facioscapulohumeral dystrophy (FSHD). Facial and distal limb weakness associated with hand grip myotonia is virtually diagnostic of myotonic dystrophy type 1. When other cranial nerve muscles are weak, causing ptosis or extraocular muscle weakness, the most important disorders to consider include neuromuscular junction disorders, oculopharyngeal muscular dystrophy, mitochondrial myopathies, or some of the congenital myopathies (Table 462e-1). A pathognomonic pattern characteristic of inclusion body myositis is atrophy and weakness of the flexor forearm (e.g., wrist and finger flexors) and quadriceps muscles that is often asymmetric. Less frequently, but important diagnostically, is the presence of a dropped head syndrome indicative of selective neck extensor muscle weakness. The most important neuromuscular diseases associated with this pattern of weakness include myasthenia gravis, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, late-onset nemaline myopathy, hyperparathyroidism, focal myositis, and some forms of inclusion body myopathy. A final pattern, recognized because ...

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