Objective: To assess the clinical outcome of patients with polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) and giant cell arteritis (GCA).
Methods: All charts of consecutive patients with a diagnosis of PMR and/or GCA attending a tertiary referral center from June 1989 to February 1996 were reviewed following a predetermined protocol. Subsequently, the majority of patients (90%) were assessed clinically or by telephone interview. Registered variables included demographic data, disease characteristics, prednisone dosage and duration, comorbidities, and clinical outcomes.
Results: There were 149 patients (133 with PMR alone, 7 with GCA alone, 9 with both); 94 (63%) were females; the mean age was 68 +/- 9 years, and the mean disease duration from the first symptom to the rheumatology consultation was 13 +/- 12 weeks (1-99). Typical clinical features of PMR were present in patients with PMR. Synovitis was observed in 26 patients. The presenting symptoms for GCA were typical features in 13 patients and blindness in 3 (2%) patients. Mean followup was 3.7 +/- 2 years. Comorbid conditions were present in 71 patients: 12 patients had hypertension, 13 had fractures, 8 diabetes, 29 cataract, 8 major infection, and 37 had other complications. Cancer was diagnosed in 4 patients and 6 patients had died. Prednisone was prescribed in 148 patients (mean dose 23 +/- 14 mg) for a mean time of 28 +/- 29 mo. Nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs were prescribed in 51 (34%) patients and methotrexate in 2. Disease remission was achieved in 81 (54%) patients (72 remissions, 9 presumed remissions) in whom steroid therapy had been stopped. Another 54 (36%) patients were still taking prednisone at the time of the interview, all were in clinical remission. Seventeen patients developed rheumatoid arthritis subsequent to the diagnosis of PMR.
Conclusion: PMR and GCA should not necessarily be considered diseases with favorable outcome. In many of our patients, steroids were required for a prolonged period. Some patients developed significant complications attributable to steroid therapy. A significant number of patients progressed to rheumatoid arthritis.