Diagnosis and management of polymyalgia rheumatica

Practitioner. 2016 Dec;260(1799):13-6.


Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a common inflammatory condition of unknown aetiology with a prevalence of 1 in 133 in the over 50s, and a female to male ratio of 2:1. Symptoms develop over a matter of weeks; typically bilateral shoulder or pelvic girdle pain and stiffness, that is worse in the mornings. Associated symptoms include low-grade fever, malaise, fatigue, low mood, poor appetite, and weight loss. There is no specific diagnostic test for PMR but the usual pattern is a commensurate rise in CRP and ESR. A small proportion of PMR patients will have normal inflammatory markers. PMR is associated with giant cell arteritis (GCA). Half of patients with GCA will have some PMR symptoms and up to one fifth of patients with PMR will have evidence of GCA. Other conditions that can mimic PMR include: rheumatic disease in the elderly e.g. rheumatoid arthritis; inflammatory muscle diseases; thyroid disease; malignancy; infection; bilateral shoulder capsulitis; osteoarthritis, Parkinsonism and depressive illness. At diagnosis and each follow-up visit it is imperative to consider the potential for associated GCA. The patient should be asked about headaches, jaw claudication and visual disturbance. If there is any suspicion of GCA, urgent discussion with the rheumatologist should take place that day.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Female
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / diagnosis*
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / drug therapy*
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymyalgia Rheumatica / diagnosis*
  • Polymyalgia Rheumatica / drug therapy*
  • Prednisone / therapeutic use
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Prednisone