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Polymyalgia Rheumatica What is it?

Updated on October 28, 2015

Signs and Symptoms of PMR

What is Polymyalgia Rheumatica? My mother was diagnosed with this disease and I needed answers. Commonly referred to as PMR, the name literally means “pain in many muscles” and that is exactly what it is.

Symptoms of Polymyalgia Rheumatica

  • Stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders, and hips

  • Can come on suddenly

  • Can occur gradually

  • Morning pain is severe

  • Usually develops in older people, 60 and up

  • Limited range of motion in affected areas

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Weight loss

  • Appetite loss

  • Low grade fever

Polymyalgia Rheumatica was established and recognized as a disease in 1966 by Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, N.Y.

Causes of PMR

  • Infectious disease may be a contributing factor, such as a virus.

  • Hereditary factors

  • There may be a connection with food sensitivities and PMR

In reality, very little is actually known about PMR, and there’s no test to diagnose the disease. However, a rheumatologist can narrow down the cause of the pain, in conjunction with the patient answering questions and a general physical exam can diagnose PMR.

What are the choices for treatment?

The drug of choice for PMR is prednisone. Prednisone is a steroid that can relieve the pain and reduce inflammation in the body. A course of 10 to 20 mg of prednisone a day is the course of treatment for this disease. Treatment is needed for at least one year and usually more.

In conjunction with the prednisone, doctors recommend a healthy diet and exercise. As with anyone a healthy diet will support the immune system and the exercise will strengthen and support the muscles.

One thing to remember with PMR is that it never causes inflammation/swelling in the joints. So if you are experiencing this you may want to reconsider your diagnosis. PMR is hard to recognize, and your heath care provider should rule out Rheumatoid Arthritis.

PMR can also be confused with Giant Cell Arthritis. It is thought that 30 percent of people with PMR also have Giant Cell Arthritis, and about 50 percent of those with Giant Cell Arthritis have PMR.

Risk Factors of PMR

  • Age ~ this disease affects older adults. The age for the onset of the disease is around 70 years old.

  • Sex ~ females are two times more likely to get PMR.

  • Ethnicity ~ those of Northern European decent are more likely to get this disease.

There are a wide range of symptoms that accompany this disease, and it is not very well understood.


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Very little is actually known about Polymyalgia Rheumatica, what is known is that it’s an inflammatory disorder. It is similar to Fibromyalgia in that the symptoms are similar, but this disorder affects older people exclusively.

The pain from this disorder is exceptionally bad in the morning, and seems to get somewhat better as the day progresses. Traveling is a problem, and can cause moderate to severe pain when sitting in a car traveling for long periods of time.

Moving helps, although it is painful to do so at first. Due to this fact many elect to stay immobile causing the disorder to become worse instead of better. It becomes a cycle of pain that seems to never end.

The good news about this disorder is that once on the steroids the pain subsides. As I mentioned above treatment lasts for at least a year and then the disorder goes into remission. Treatment with steroids can take between 2 and 6 years, keep in mind there’s no cure for PMR.

Can PMR be prevented? No, there’s no known prevention for this disease. No one knows why it happens, or who will be affected by it. It seems that some of it may be hereditary, but in reality no one’s for sure.

Speaking from experience with my mother, she has found some relief with massage therapy. Of course the relief is temporary and can be costly, but worth it to get some relief.

Lab tests are not definitive when it comes to PMR. Blood tests will point to abnormal proteins in the blood, abnormal white blood cells and anemia (low blood count). This in combination with your symptoms will help the doctor determine your condition. These blood tests will also be used to help monitor your condition over time.



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