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Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR)

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Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) facts

  • Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a disease that causes pain and stiffness in muscles and joints.
  • Health care professionals diagnose PMR by characteristic common symptoms associated with abnormal blood testing for inflammation.
  • Treatment of PMR involves taking low doses of cortisone medications.

What is polymyalgia rheumatica?

Polymyalgia rheumatica is a disease of the muscles and joints characterized by muscle pain and stiffness, affecting both sides of the body, and involving the shoulders, arms, neck, and buttock areas. People with the disease are typically over 50 years of age. Polymyalgia rheumatica is abbreviated PMR.

PMR and temporal arteritis (giant cell arteritis) sometimes occur in the same patient. About 10%-15% of people with PMR also have giant cell arteritis.

What are polymyalgia rheumatica causes and risk factors?

The cause of the condition is not known. Recent research has indicated that genetic (inherited) risk factors play a role in who becomes afflicted with the illness. Theories include viral stimulation of the immune system in genetically susceptible individuals. Rarely, the disease is associated with a cancer. In this setting, the cancer may be initiating an inflammatory immune response to cause the polymyalgia rheumatica symptoms.

What are common symptoms and signs of polymyalgia rheumatica?

The onset of the disease can be sudden. A patient may have a healthy history until awakening one morning with stiffness and pain of muscles and joints throughout the body. These pains can lead to a sensation of weakness and loss of function. Sometimes there is also muscle tenderness with PMR. These clinical symptoms persist and often include an intense sensation of fatigue. Some patients notice a gradual loss of appetite accompanied by weight loss and lack of energy. Depression can occur.

How do health care professionals make a diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatica?

The diagnosis of the disorder is suggested by the health history and physical examination. A health care professional frequently notes muscle tenderness and that the motion of the shoulders is limited by pain. The joints are usually not swollen. However, signs such as swelling of the small joints of the hands, wrists, and/or knees can occur. Blood testing for inflammation is generally abnormal, as indicated by a significant elevation in the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (sed rate or ESR) and/or C-reactive protein. There are no specific tests, however, for the condition and X-rays are normal. The diagnosis is based on the characteristic history of persisting muscle and joint pain and stiffness associated with elevated blood tests for inflammation, such as the ESR. It is also not unusual for patients to have slight elevations of liver blood tests.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/6/2017


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