Giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR)
What are they?
Giant cell arteritis, also called temporal arteritis or cranial arteritis, is a serious disease that is characterized by inflammation of the walls of the blood vessels (vasculitis). The vessels affected are the arteries (hence the name "arteritis"). The diagnosis is confirmed with a biopsy of an artery, usually an artery on the side of the scalp called the temporal artery.
Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a disorder of the muscles and joints of older persons. It is characterized by pain and stiffness, affects both sides of the body, and involves the shoulders, arms, neck, and buttock areas.
Giant cell arteritis occurs in 10-15% of patients with polymyalgia rheumatica. The age of affected patients with these conditions is over 50 years. The onset of giant cell arteritis may be years before, after, or without accompanying polymyalgia rheumatica.
Polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis facts
- Polymyalgia rheumatica causes pain and stiffness in muscles
- Polymyalgia rheumatica is diagnosed by characteristic symptoms
abnormal blood testing for inflammation.
- Polymyalgia rheumatica is treated with low doses of cortisone medications.
- Giant cell arteritis is a result of inflammation of
- Giant cell arteritis can lead to blindness and/or stroke.
- Giant cell arteritis is detected by a biopsy of an artery.
- Giant cell arteritis is treated with high-dose cortisone medications.
What is polymyalgia rheumatica?
Polymyalgia rheumatica is a disorder 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. Patients with polymyalgia rheumatica are typically over 50 years
of age. Polymyalgia rheumatica is abbreviated PMR.
Because both polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis sometimes occur in the same patient, both diseases are reviewed here.
What causes polymyalgia rheumatica?
The cause of polymyalgia rheumatica is not known. Recent
indicated that genetic (inherited) factors play a role in who
afflicted with the illness. Theories have included viral
the immune system in genetically susceptible individuals. Rarely, polymyalgia rheumatica 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 symptoms and signs of polymyalgia rheumatica?
The onset of the illness can be sudden. A patient may have a
history until awakening one morning with stiffness and pain of
joints throughout the body. These pains can lead to a sensation of weakness and loss of function. Sometimes there is also muscle tenderness. These symptoms persist and are often
accompanied by an intense sensation of fatigue. Some patients
gradual loss of appetite, weight, and energy. Depression can
How is polymyalgia rheumatica diagnosed?
The diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatica is suggested by the history and physical examination.
The doctor frequently notes muscle tenderness and that the
motion of the
shoulders is limited by pain. The joints are usually not
swelling of the small joints of the hands, wrists, and/or knees
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 polymyalgia rheumatica and
normal. The diagnosis is based on the characteristic history of
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 3/7/2016