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Polymyalgia Rheumatica

Pain and stiffness in the muscles around the shoulders and hips

  • Rare under the age of 60
  • Twice as common in females
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • Lifestyle is not a significant factor

In polymyalgia rheumatica, inflammation of tissues causes pain and stiffness (often worse in the morning) in the neck, shoulders, hips, and lower back as well as a general sense of feeling unwell and loss of energy.

Polymyalgia rheumatica is an auto-immune disorder in which the immune system attacks the body’s own tissues. The condition is rare, can run in families, and is more common in older women. It may occur in association with the disorder giant cell arteritis.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms usually appear over a few weeks but sometimes develop suddenly. They may include:

  • Painful, stiff muscles.

  • Tiredness.

  • Fever and night sweats.

  • Weight loss.

  • Depression.

The symptoms may be accompanied by those of giant cell arteritis, such as severe headaches on one or both sides of the head and tenderness of the scalp.

What might be done?

Your doctor will probably be able to make a diagnosis based on your symptoms, a physical examination, and the results of blood tests to look for inflammation. In some cases, additional blood tests may be performed to exclude other disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Your doctor will probably prescribe an oral corticosteroid to reduce the inflammation. If you also have giant cell arteritis, the initial doses of this drug may be higher. In either case, the dose will be reduced to a maintenance level once the symptoms subside.

Symptoms are usually relieved soon after starting corticosteroid treatment. However, polymyalgia rheumatica may persist for years, in which case you need to continue taking low doses of a corticosteroid to control symptoms.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

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