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Polymyalgia rheumatica

Polymyalgia rheumatica causes inflammation in the joints and the surrounding tissues. It can make your muscles feel painful and stiff, especially in your shoulders, neck and hips. It usually affects older adults. However, when treated, symptoms can improve rapidly and may eventually disappear altogether.

What causes polymyalgia rheumatica?

Doctors do not know what causes polymyalgia rheumatica. Genetics might play a part. Maybe an infection might trigger the condition in some people.

Polymyalgia rheumatica symptoms

Polymyalgia rheumatica simply means ‘pain in many muscles’. People with the condition might have:

  • pain and stiffness in the limbs, shoulders, neck and buttocks, which might be worse in the morning or after not moving for a while
  • a limited range of motion in the joints

The muscular pain can come on overnight, or it can come on slowly. It might be mild, or it might be severe enough to cause you a lot of trouble getting about.

Some people have other symptoms such as:

  • feeling unwell or tired
  • mild fever
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • difficulty sleeping, or feeling very tired
  • depression

If you are concerned about any of these symptoms, see your doctor.

If you have any of these symptoms as well as headaches, blurred vision or double vision, see your doctor or go to an emergency department within 24 hours. There is a condition called giant cell arteritis, which occasionally develops in people with polymyalgia rheumatica. People with giant cell arteritis need urgent treatment.

Polymyalgia rheumatica is usually diagnosed after a physical examination by your doctor. A blood test to look at levels of inflammation may also be recommended.

However, there is no single test for polymyalgia rheumatica and it may take a few visits for the doctor to rule out forms of arthritis with similar symptoms.

Polymyalgia rheumatica treatment

Once diagnosed, polymyalgia rheumatica can be treated with corticosteroids. You may need to start on a high dose to bring the symptoms under control before the dose is reduced to the minimum needed to keep you symptom-free. You will also probably be prescribed pain killers.

Most people find their symptoms improve quickly after starting treatment, but treatment is usually needed for two or three years.

Corticosteroids can have unwanted side effects, so it is important to see your doctor regularly. To avoid these, your doctor might also suggest you take calcium and vitamin D supplements or other medicines. You may be able to limit the side effects by:

Sometimes polymyalgia rheumatic is with you for life. Sometimes it goes away with treatment and doesn’t come back.

Last reviewed: January 2018

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