Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is an inflammatory condition that usually affects the muscles in and around the shoulders and upper arms, the buttocks and the thighs. It typically affects people aged over 50, and is more common in women than men. The cause is currently not well understood.
Polymyalgia rheumatica usually starts very suddenly and develops over a couple of weeks. Your GP may well be able to make a diagnosis without referring you to a rheumatologist.
It is important to note that polymyalgia rheumatica is sometimes associated with a condition called giant cellarteritis (GCA), which is an inflammation of the arteries that supply the head and neck. Symptoms of GCA include severe headaches, and pain and tenderness around the head, temples and jaw. It is a very serious complication. If you experience such symptoms, you should see your doctor immediately.
How will it affect me?
You may experience severe and painful stiffness in your shoulders and thighs, usually on both sides. The severity of the stiffness may restrict your mobility, particularly early in the morning, although the pain usually eases a little as the day progresses. The pain may also be less when active but feel worse when resting. You might also feel generally unwell and extremely tired.
How is it treated?
Your doctor is likely to prescribe steroid tablets, which are highly effective in treating PMR. (Common painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs are unlikely to be effective.) You will probably be given a moderate dose of steroids initially, gradually reducing to the lowest dose possible.
Most people require treatment for a year or two, or sometimes longer. If GCA develops (see opposite page), a higher dose of steroids may be used initially than in straightforward polymyalgia rheumatica.