Polymyalgia, (from Poly meaning many, and myalgia meaning muscle pain) is also known as PMR or Polymyalgia Rheumatica and is a fairly uncommon condition – although not classed as rare - which causes stiffness, discomfort and pain in and around the larger shoulder, neck, upper arm, buttock and hip muscles. This pain and discomfort is oftentimes much worse in the mornings. There may also be some inflammation and swelling in other soft tissues of the body – inflammation of tendons for example of slight swelling in hands, feet and some joints. Other, more general, symptoms may include depression, loss of appetite and weight loss, tiredness, fever and night sweats. The general nature of these symptoms and sometimes slow development may make it easier to pass them off as the general aches and pains associated with the aging process.
The onset of PMR may be very sudden and the cause remains unknown although it does respond well to treatment. It does seem that both environmental and genetic factors may contribute to an individual’s development of the disease.
Polymyalgia appears to be an age related condition occurring more frequently in those over the age of 50. It is also more common in women than men - affecting two to three times more women than men. PMR also appears to affect different ethnic groups – it is more common amongst those of Scandinavian descent than from those people from the Black community for example.
In very rare cases sufferers may experience headaches and even some sight loss – due to the involvement of arteries supplying the head and neck. It is therefore imperative to seek medical advice and treatment from your General Practitioner.
Because the symptoms of Polymyalgia are very similar to other conditions a blood test may be done to help the Medical Practitioner make a correct diagnosis. Whilst no blood test is 100% reliable for the condition it is usually possible to detect levels of inflammation within the body and if the typical symptoms are present then the diagnosis of Polymyalgia may be confirmed.
Symptoms of PMR are sometimes similar to other conditions such as frozen shoulder, arthritis, or other muscle diseases. So, a blood test is usually done to help make the correct diagnosis. An ultrasound scan, whilst not a routine test for Polymyalgia may be helpful in distinguishing it from other conditions.
Other symptoms which may appear in those suffering with Polymyalgia may be indicative of a more serious condition known as Giant Cell Arteritis – this condition is much more urgent and if any of the symptoms appear immediate medical attention should be sought. The symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis may appear before, after or along side the symptoms of Polymyalgia – these symptoms may include persistent headaches with a sore scalp, pain on chewing and deterioration in vision – loss of sight or development of double vision – those with Polymyalgia should familiarise themselves with the possible symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis so that the necessary urgent medical attention can be found. Ultimately Giant Cell Arteritis can cause permanent blindness which is why there is urgency in the need for medical treatment.
For sufferers of PMR the outlook is generally very good, a course of oral steroid tablets will usually lead to a rapid improvement in symptoms – most patients will need to take a long term, low dose course of this medication, for twelve to twenty four months which should then prevent symptoms returning.