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Polymyalgia rheumatica

Definition

Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory disorder involving pain and stiffness in the hip or shoulder area.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Polymyalgia rheumatica is a disorder that almost always occurs in people over 50 years old. The cause is unknown. Although symptoms are located mainly in the muscles and there are no outward signs of arthritis, in some cases there is evidence of inflammatory arthritis.

The disorder may occur alone, or with or before temporal arteritis, which is an inflammation of blood vessels (usually in the head).

Symptoms

Note: Symptoms usually come on suddenly.

Signs and tests

Fever may be the only symptom in some cases (the person has a fever for no known reason). There may also be signs of temporal arteritis.

Blood tests are nonspecific.

Treatment

The goal of treatment is relief of discomfort and stiffness. The disease can be very bothersome if it is not treated. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are prescribed in low doses.

Expectations (prognosis)

Polymyalgia rheumatica usually goes away by itself, even when not treated, in 1 to 4 years. Symptoms diminish greatly with treatment. Most patients need steroid treatment for 1 or more years.

Complications

Polymyalgia rheumatica may occur before the onset of giant cell arteritis or other disorders.

Calling your health care provider

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you experience persistent weakness or stiffness of the pelvis or shoulder, especially if this is accompanied by symptoms of general illness, such as fever or headache.

Prevention

There is no known prevention.

References

Unwin B, Williams CM, Gilliland W. Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis. Am Fam Physician; 2006; 74(9):1547-1554.

Review Date: 2/22/2009
Reviewed By: Ariel D. Teitel, MD, MBA, Chief, Division of Rheumatology, St. Vincent’s Hospital, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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