Harvard Men's Health Watch

Polymyalgia rheumatica

It sounds like a new threat to health, but it was first diagnosed in 1888 as "senile rheumatic gout." It sounds rare, even exotic, but it's actually quite common. It sounds serious, even ferocious, but it responds beautifully to proper treatment. It's polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), a painful, sometimes disabling condition that can be associated with giant cell arteritis (GCA), a disease that is much less common but much more serious.

You don't have to remember the unfamiliar name or even the simple initials, but you should understand the symptoms and treatments that can restore comfort in PMR and, in the case of GCA, preserve your vision.

What is PMR?

The disorder's name tells more about its symptoms than its underlying nature. PMR's characteristic clinical feature is muscle pain (the "myalgia") in several locations (the "poly"). But the name does not do justice to the inflammation that's responsible for the pain. And although most patients with PMR complain of pain in their muscles, the inflammation is actually most intense in the synovium, the membrane surrounding the joints near the painful muscles, and in the bursa, the fluid-filled sacs that cushion these joints. Joint inflammation justifies the "rheumatica" designation, but unlike rheumatoid arthritis and other rheumatic disorders, PMR never produces joint damage and destruction.

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