Questions and Answers about Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis
What Is Polymyalgia Rheumatica?
Polymyalgia rheumatica is a rheumatic disorder associated with
moderate-to-severe musculoskeletal pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulder,
and hip area. Stiffness is most noticeable in the morning or after a period of
inactivity, and typically lasts longer than 30 minutes. This disorder may
develop rapidly; in some people it comes on literally overnight. But for most
people, polymyalgia rheumatica develops more gradually.
The cause of polymyalgia rheumatica is not known. But it is
associated with immune system problems, genetic factors, and an event, such as
an infection, that triggers symptoms. The fact that polymyalgia rheumatica is
rare in people under the age of 50 and becomes more common as age increases
suggests that it may be linked to the aging process.
Symptoms of osteoarthritis may include joint pain and progressive stiffness that develops gradually.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis may include painful swelling, inflammation, and stiffness in the fingers, arms, legs, and wrists occurring in the same joints on both sides of the body, especially upon awakening.
Symptoms of infectious arthritis may include fever, chills, joint inflammation, tenderness, and sharp pain that is associated with an injury or infection elsewhere in your body.
Polymyalgia rheumatica usually resolves within 1 to 2 years.
The symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica are quickly controlled by treatment with
corticosteroids, but symptoms return if treatment is stopped too early.
Corticosteroid treatment does not appear to influence the length of the
What Is Giant Cell Arteritis?
Giant cell arteritis, also known as temporal arteritis and cranial
arteritis, is a disorder that results in inflammation of arteries of the scalp
(most apparent in the temporal arteries, which are located on the temples on
each side of the head), neck, and arms. This inflammation causes the arteries
to narrow, impeding adequate blood flow. For a good prognosis, it is critical
to receive early treatment, before irreversible tissue damage occurs.
How Are Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis Related?
It is unclear how or why polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell
arteritis frequently occur together. But some people with polymyalgia
rheumatica also develop giant cell arteritis either simultaneously, or after
the musculoskeletal symptoms have disappeared. Other people with giant cell
arteritis also have polymyalgia rheumatica at some time while the arteries are
When undiagnosed or untreated, giant cell arteritis can cause
potentially serious problems, including permanent vision loss and stroke. So
regardless of why giant cell arteritis might occur along with polymyalgia
rheumatica, it is important that doctors look for symptoms of the arteritis in
anyone diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica.
Patients, too, must learn and watch for symptoms of giant cell
arteritis, because early detection and proper treatment are key to preventing
complications. Any symptoms should be reported to your doctor immediately.
What Are the Symptoms of Polymyalgia Rheumatica?
In addition to the musculoskeletal stiffness mentioned earlier, people with
polymyalgia rheumatica also may have flu-like symptoms, including fever,
weakness, and weight loss.
What Are the Symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis?
Early symptoms of giant cell arteritis may resemble flu symptoms such as
fatigue, loss of appetite, and fever. Symptoms specifically related to the
inflamed arteries of the head include headaches, pain and tenderness over the
temples, double vision or visual loss, dizziness or problems with coordination,
and balance. Pain may also affect the jaw and tongue, especially when eating,
and opening the mouth wide may become difficult. In rare cases, giant cell
arteritis causes ulceration of the scalp.