Introduction 

Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a condition that causes pain, stiffness and inflammation in the muscles around the shoulders, neck and hips.

Polymyalgia rheumatica may also cause other symptoms, including:

  • a high temperature (fever)
  • extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss
  • depression

If you have pain and stiffness that lasts longer than a week, you should see your GP so the cause can be investigated.

It can be difficult to diagnose polymyalgia rheumatica because it has symptoms similar to many other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. These conditions will need to be ruled out before polymyalgia rheumatica is diagnosed.

Read more about the symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica and diagnosing polymyalgia rheumatica.

How is it treated?

The main treatment for the condition is a steroid medication (corticosteroids) called prednisolone, which is used to help relieve your symptoms.

You will initially be prescribed a high dose of prednisolone, which will be reduced gradually over time.

Most people with polymyalgia rheumatica will need to take a long-term course of corticosteroid treatment (lasting one to two years) to prevent their symptoms returning.

Read more about treating polymyalgia rheumatica.

Who is affected?

Polymyalgia rheumatica is relatively common in the UK. It is estimated that one in every 1,200 people develop the condition every year.

Polymyalgia rheumatica is an age-related condition. Most people diagnosed with the condition are over 70 years old and cases affecting people younger than 50 are almost unheard of.

The condition is two to three times more common in women than men. It is more widespread among white people, particularly those of northern European descent.

The cause of polymyalgia rheumatica is unclear. However, it is thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors is responsible.

A stiff or painful neck can be a sign of polymyalgia rheumatica 

Giant cell arteritis

Around one in five people with polymyalgia rheumatica develop a more serious condition called giant cell arteritis (also known as temporal arteritis), which can cause inflammation in the arteries of the head or neck, resulting in symptoms such as:

  • persistent severe headaches with scalp tenderness (the scalp is sore to touch)
  • pain in the jaw muscles when chewing
  • impaired vision, such as double vision or loss of vision

You should contact your GP immediately if you notice these symptoms.

Unlike polymyalgia rheumatica, giant cell arteritis is regarded as a medical emergency and without prompt treatment it can cause permanent visual impairment.

The symptoms of giant cell arteritis can develop before, after or at the same time as the symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica.

Read more about giant cell arteritis.

Page last reviewed: 28/01/2013

Next review due: 28/01/2015