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What is polymyalgia?

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Polymyalgia rheumatica, or PMR, is an autoimmune disease that causes widespread muscle pain and stiffness in the major joints of the body, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. The hips, neck and shoulders are generally affected. It is a slowly progressing disease, although some patients do experience sudden onset of symptoms.

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Caucasian women over 50 are at the greatest risk for developing polymyalgia rheumatica, states NIAMSD, although men who are diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica have a greater risk than women of developing giant cell arteritis, which can lead to blindness if not promptly treated.

The American College of Rheumatology states that to confirm a diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatica, a sedimentation rate test is ordered to see if there is evidence of inflammation in the body. A C-reactive protein test, which measures inflammation within the liver, may also be ordered. Some patients with PMR have high levels of inflammation on these two tests, while other patients may have little or no evidence of inflammation, making PMR a difficult disease to diagnose.

The cause of PMR is unknown, as of 2014, but doctors do admit that medication side effects are not a cause of PMR symptoms, states the American College of Rheumatology. Some studies suggest that PMR somehow infects the major joints, and what is perceived as muscle pain is actually referred pain from the infected joints.

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