Polymyalgia rheumatica

Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory disorder that can occur at any time however it usually affects people who are over the age of 50. The cause of this problem is unknown at the present time. It causes several symptoms which can start out gradually and get worse over time or can come on quickly and be severe.

People who have polymyalgia rheumatica will have stiffness and pain as well as muscle aches in several areas of the body. These seem to be most prevalent in the neck and shoulders. The upper arms, hips, and upper thighs can be affected as well. As stated above the cause of this problem is unknown however experts feel that the immune system being compromised can be a factor in developing this problem. Genetic disposition can play a role in developing this as well. Aging is another factor to consider as it seems that this disorder affects primarily those over the age of 50. It is known that the immune system is not as efficient once aging has started so both of these things may play a role in developing this disorder.

Symptoms of this disorder include anemia and fatigue. They also include moderate to severe muscle aches and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, upper arms, hips and thighs. A fever can accompany this disorder as well as some weight loss.

The cause of this disorder is inflammation of the joint spaces and surrounding tissues where the stiffness and pain are located. The inflammation is caused by an abnormal response from the person’s white blood cells. Instead of fighting off disease by attacking bacteria or viruses, they start to attack the cells and tissue that make up the joints and the surrounding tissues. The inflammation follows when these white blood cells attack healthy tissues.

People who are more at risk for this disorder are those people who are over the age of 50 as stated above. Women are also twice as likely to succumb to this disorder than men. This disorder is seen in people of Caucasian race most often those who are of Northern European or Scandinavian ancestry.

This disorder can go on untreated for long periods of time. Some people have experienced this problem for up to two years before having any kind of relief from the symptoms noted above. It is a good idea to see a physician if you have muscle aches that last longer than 5 days in duration or sooner if they are accompanied by a fever or severe weakness.

A physician can do a general examination and some testing to determine if polymyalgia rheumatica is the culprit. Anemia is one symptom of this disorder so a complete blood count will probably be ordered to check this as well as other factors. There are other laboratory tests that can be done to see if this disorder is present. One lab test is the SED rate. This test will show elevated levels when an inflammatory process is present in the body. Another test that can be done to rule out another similar disorder is to check for a rheumatory factor. This test is positive when rheumatoid arthritis is present. It will be negative if polymyalgia rheumatica is present. Other testing that can be done can include platelet counts which can be elevated when disorders such as this are present.

Once this disorder has been diagnosed, lower dosages of oral steroids can be given to reduce the symptoms of this problem. These can be used on the short term to help reduce the length of the disorder being present. NSAID’s can be used to help reduce the aches and pains that are experienced due to this disorder.

Neither of these medications should be used for the long term as both can have some severe side effects if used for long periods of time. NSAID’s can cause increased bleeding times, stomach irritation, gastric erosion and even bleeding ulcers. Long term steroid use can cause problems such as osteoporosis, hypertension and cataracts if used long term.

Last updated on Mar 7th, 2010 and filed under Musculoskeletal Disorders. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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