Corticosteroids are the primary treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica, but physical therapy and lifestyle modifications, such as eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and using assistive devices when necessary, help some people with the disease, explains Mayo Clinic. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications are not effective in treating polymyalgia rheumatica, explains the American College of Rheumatology.
Polymyalgia rheumatica is a common disease in older adults, states the American College of Rheumatology. The average age of onset is 70, and it is more common in women than men. Symptoms include stiffness and muscle pain in the upper arms, shoulders, lower back and thighs. Symptoms are typically worse in the morning and improve as the day goes on.
Polymyalgia rheumatica usually comes on suddenly, the American College of Rheumatology reports. Blood tests often reveal high levels of C-reactive protein and a high erythrocyte-sedimentation rate, two values that correlate strongly with inflammation. Because of this and the suddenness with which the disease develops, some doctors think polymyalgia rheumatica is an infection, but no causative agent has been identified as of September 2015. Some research suggests that symptoms are due to inflammation of the joints of the shoulders and hips, which causes referred muscle pain.
Polymyalgia rheumatica sometimes occurs along with giant cell arteritis, which affects the temporal artery, a blood vessel in the face. Symptoms include a sudden, persistent headache and vision loss, which may progress if the disease is not treated quickly, warns the American College of Rheumatology.
Polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis typically respond well to low doses of corticosteroids, states the American College of Rheumatology. However, long-term steroid use has many side effects, so doctors try to lower the dose as symptoms resolve. Many patients discontinue steroid therapy within one to three years, but some take steroids indefinitely.