Polymyalgia rheumatica

Rheum Dis Clin North Am. 1990 May;16(2):325-39.


Polymyalgia rheumatica is a syndrome that occurs in the elderly and is characterized by pain and stiffness involving the neck, the shoulder girdle, and the hip girdle. The aching should be present for greater than one month. Polymyalgia rheumatica may be more common than reported. The etiology remains unknown. There is generally little found pathologically in this disease. The physical examination is often not impressive. Synovitis may be a main contributing factor to many of the symptoms seen in patients with polymyalgia rheumatica. Symptoms often do not correlate with physical findings. Polymyalgia rheumatica must be differentiated from many conditions since the diagnosis remains entirely clinical. Osteoarthritis, flu syndromes, inflammatory myopathies, fibromyalgia, and depression all have features that may mimic polymyalgia rheumatica. Malignancies and infections may also be difficult to separate from polymyalgia rheumatica. Polymyalgia rheumatica may also be extremely difficult to differentiate from seronegative rheumatoid arthritis in patients older than 50 years. Although some patients with polymyalgia rheumatica have underlying giant cell arteritis, the majority apparently do not. The distinction between polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis cannot be made on the basis of laboratory studies and relies solely on clinical symptoms and physical findings. Although nonsteroidal antiinflammatory medications may control symptoms in patients with mild disease, most patients with polymyalgia rheumatica require low-dose corticosteroids. The tapering schedule for the corticosteroids is contingent upon the response of symptoms and laboratory parameters. Polymyalgia rheumatica usually follows a benign course with almost complete response to an adequate treatment program. Recently, there have been several studies suggesting that the course of polymyalgia rheumatica may not be as short and simple as once proposed. Nevertheless, many patients may be completely weaned from corticosteroids. Other agents have been used in this disease, but for the most part their use remains somewhat controversial. Patients must be monitored carefully. Most patients do well, and treatment is effective.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymyalgia Rheumatica* / diagnosis