What is Polymyalgia Rheumatica?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
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  • Last Modified Date: 21 August 2019
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Polymyalgia rheumatica is a form of arthritis that may be autoimmune in nature. The condition usually affects those 50 or older, and most often affects people who are at least 70. It more commonly occurs in women, or in those with giant cell arthritis, which causes swelling and inflammation of the arteries. There has also been some connection established between occurrence of this disease and previously having had certain viruses.

When polymyalgia rheumatica occurs, it may happen suddenly or take a while to develop. People are likely to note that on one side of the body they may have achiness and stiffness in the shoulders, neck, upper arms, hips, and upper legs. Since this frequently begins on one side, early symptoms might be dismissed as having slept “wrong” or “funny,” but continuation of the symptoms and their spread to the other side of the body is then interpreted as something. Along with arthritic discomfort and tightness, people might also have feelings of malaise, fever, poor appetite, weight loss, a run down feeling and depression.


When people present with symptoms of this disease, doctors are likely to run several blood tests to rule out other types of arthritis. They’ll also look for anemia, since this is a common symptom of the illness. Because there is a strong relationship between polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arthritis, doctors commonly test for this condition too. This involves performing a biopsy on an artery on the head, and is usually an in office procedure.

With diagnosis confirmed there are several ways to treat polymyalgia rheumatica. Doctors can use NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs that can help reduce inflammation and promote greater comfort. These are most often used when cases are mild and pain is not severe, but daily use of these may result in unfortunate side effects for some people like elevated risk for bleeding.

Alternately, some doctors favor a treatment plan that uses oral corticosteroids to address inflammatory response. One of the most common drugs used for this purpose is prednisone. Like NSAIDs, corticosteroid use comes with some risks, which might include elevated chances of developing cataracts, increased blood pressure, and higher chances of creating osteoporosis (a real concern given the age group and gender of most polymyalgia rheumatica sufferers).

Since polymyalgia rheumatica is a limited condition that typically goes away in two to four years or sooner, treatment is limited too. Doctors tend to give what is needed to control pain, and start to discontinue drugs as soon as inflammation begins to reduce. This helps in minimizing side effect risks.

Even with treatment the condition can definitely be challenging at times, though medication should start to provide some pain relief. Doctors do recommend people stay active and begin an exercise regimen if they’re not presently exercising. For those people who are already quite active, it may be necessary to slow down for a little while and listen to the body when it begins to become painful to do things. With time, this condition does pass, and in the interim moderate exercise, staying tuned to the body’s signals, and sensible living, like eating a healthy diet, may be of benefit.



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