Polymyalgia rheumatica (poly-my-al-ger ru-mah-ticker), or PMR, is a relatively common condition that causes stiffness and pain in muscles. The word ‘poly’ means many and the word ‘myalgia’ means muscle pain.
It can start at any age from 50, but mainly affects people over the age of 70. More women are affected than men.
Polymyalgia rheumatica can cause pain and stiffness in the shoulders, neck, hips and thighs.
Polymyalgia rheumatica often comes on quickly, perhaps over a week or two. It can start just after a flu-like illness. The stiffness may be so severe that dressing, reaching, washing, climbing stairs or even getting out of bed may be difficult.
The symptoms are different from the ache you may feel after exercise that your body isn’t used to. The pain and stiffness from polymyalgia rheumatica is often widespread, and is worse when resting or after rest. Symptoms can improve with activity or as the day goes on. The pain may also wake you at night.
It’s also common to feel unwell or to have a slight fever, and you may lose weight. At times, tiredness can be overwhelming, this is known as fatigue. The condition can also make you feel low and anxious, and depressed.
Related condition: Giant cell arteritis (GCA)
If you have polymyalgia rheumatica, you are at a higher risk of getting a condition called giant cell arteritis (GCA). This involves inflammation of the blood vessels called arteries.
This needs urgent treatment as there’s a risk of permanent loss of your eyesight or having a stroke with giant cell arteritis.
The symptoms of giant cell arteritis are:
- severe headaches and pain in the muscles of the head
- tenderness at the temples, the soft part of the head at the side of the eyes
- pain in the jaw, tongue or side of the face when chewing
- pain or swelling in the scalp
- blurred or double vision.
If your doctor suspects giant cell arteritis, you’ll be referred to a specialist and may have a biopsy of the temporal artery. This is where a small piece of the artery is taken from the head and examined under a microscope. You’ll be given a local anaesthetic to numb the area.
Your doctor may start you on a high dose of steroids before you see a specialist to prevent possible loss of vision.