What Is Polymyalgia Rheumatica?

Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory problem that causes muscle stiffness and aching in older adults, notes Mayo Clinic. The pain primarily affects the shoulders, upper arms, neck and hips, and it is usually most intense in the morning, explains the American College of Rheumatology.

The symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica usually begin very quickly, typically within a few days or weeks. Besides pain and stiffness, other signs and symptoms include mild fever, fatigue, depression, loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss, according to Mayo Clinic. Individuals with polymyalgia rheumatica also feel generally unwell. Polymyalgia rheumatica affects adults over age 50, with the average onset at 70 years old, notes the American College of Rheumatology. It is sometimes confused with fibromyalgia, which is a completely different problem that affects younger individuals.

The most common treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica is a low dose of an oral corticosteroid, such as prednisone, states Mayo Clinic. Individuals usually experience improvement within a few days after starting treatment. After several weeks of treatment, doctors typically decrease the corticosteroid dose, depending on the patient's condition and certain blood test results. The goal of treatment is to maintain the patient on the lowest possible steroid dose without causing recurrence of symptoms. Most patients with polymyalgia rheumatica are on corticosteroid treatment for one to two years.