Polymyalgia rheumatica means ‘pain in many muscles’. It is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints and tissues around the joints. This causes muscles to feel painful and stiff; especially in the shoulder, neck and hip areas. Polymyalgia rheumatica is different to fibromyalgia, a condition that does not cause inflammation.
What are the symptoms?
The main symptoms are:
- muscle pain and stiffness in the upper arms, neck, buttocks and thighs on both sides of the body
- pain and stiffness worse in the morning and after not moving (such as after a long car ride or sitting too long in one position)
- difficulty sleeping and doing daily activities (for example, lifting the arms to put on a jacket, bending over to pull on shoes or getting up from a low chair) due to pain and stiffness.
Symptoms usually come on quickly, over several days or weeks and sometimes even overnight.
What causes it?
The exact cause of polymyalgia rheumatica is not known. Genetics and/or environmental factors, such as an infection, may play roles in causing this type of arthritis. This has yet to be proven in research.
How is it diagnosed?
There is no single test that can diagnose polymyalgia rheumatica. Your doctor will diagnose polymyalgia rheumatica from your symptoms, a physical examination and blood tests that measure levels of inflammation. These tests measure the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) or C-reactive protein (CRP) blood level. However some people with polymyalgia rheumatica can have normal blood tests. It may take several visits before your doctor can tell if you have polymyalgia rheumatica as the symptoms can be like other types of arthritis.
What will happen to me?
The good news is that the symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica usually improve with treatment. In fact, most people find their symptoms improve dramatically within a few days of starting treatment. It usually takes two to three years for polymyalgia rheumatica to settle completely. Most people will need to continue treatment during this time to keep the symptoms under control. Polymyalgia rheumatica can return, particularly when you stop treatment, however this is rare if you have been free of symptoms for some time.
What treatments are there for polymyalgia rheumatica?
Treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica usually involves medicines called corticosteroids. Your doctor will usually start you on a dose that relieves your symptoms and then slowly reduce the dose to the lowest possible amount, that keeps you symptom free. Corticosteroids can cause side effects, so it is important to be reviewed regularly by your doctor while taking these medicines.