Objective: To determine the frequency and the characteristics of distal musculoskeletal manifestations in polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR).
Methods: Prospective followup study of 177 consecutive patients meeting clinical criteria for PMR, diagnosed over a 5-year period in 2 rheumatology secondary referral centers in Italy.
Results: Seventy-nine of the 177 patients (45%) had distal musculoskeletal manifestations. Peripheral arthritis occurred in 45 patients (25%), carpal tunnel syndrome in 24 (14%), distal extremity swelling with pitting edema in 21 (12%), and distal tenosynovitis in 5 (3%). These manifestations were usually associated with PMR proximal symptoms (69%); however, 31% of the episodes represented isolated relapse/recurrence at distal sites. Distal symptoms responded promptly to corticosteroids. No evidence of joint deformities, erosions, or development of rheumatoid arthritis was observed during the followup. The group of patients with peripheral arthritis included a higher proportion of females, had a longer duration of therapy, and had more relapses/ recurrences. Patients who had distal extremity swelling with pitting edema had a higher age at disease onset, a shorter duration of therapy, and lower initial and cumulative prednisone doses.
Conclusion: Inflammatory involvement of distal articular and/or tenosynovial structures occurs in approximately half of the cases of PMR. Peripheral arthritis is associated with more severe disease, while distal extremity swelling with pitting edema appears to identify a more benign disease subset.