What is polymyalgia?
Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a condition that causes arthritis-type symptoms in muscles and joints. It differs from the usual forms of arthritis in that its onset is rapid, and the usual signals of arthritis, such as joint damage, are not apparent.
PMR typically affects those over 50 and has an occurrence of about four in 1000 people in this age group. The symptoms occur over about one to two weeks. People may experience a flu-like illness prior to onset, but for most, the condition arises spontaneously.
The main symptoms are pain and stiffness across multiple joints and muscles, particularly around the shoulders and thighs.
Prolonged rest may worsen the stiffness and people can experience exhaustion. Another symptom is severe headache, caused by an inflammation of the arteries in the temples. Sufferers may also feel feverish and unwell.
The cause is not known, although it is believed that some cases are caused by a virus. PMR can be diagnosed by a blood test that looks for markers of inflammation, but the condition needs to be distinguished between other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia.
Once diagnosed, it can be successfully treated with a course of steroid tablets for six to24 months. Steroids dampen down the body's inflammatory and immune response. But treatment with steroids is associated with a number of risks and side effects, that need to be managed over the course of treatment.