Thursday, December 08, 2011
ROCHESTER, Minn. — The sudden and deep aches in the shoulders caused by polymyalgia rheumatica can make it difficult to comb hair or put on a jacket. Stiffness in the hips and upper legs from this illness can make getting out of bed a painful ordeal.
The December issue of Mayo Clinic Health Letter covers the symptoms and treatments for polymyalgia rheumatica (pol-ee-my-Al-juh roo-MA-tih-kah). Fortunately, proper treatment can often improve symptoms in a matter of days or even overnight. But keeping the disorder in check usually involves careful medication management for one to two years.
Polymyalgia rheumatica is a disorder where inflammation occurs in the body for no apparent reason. The pain and stiffness result from inflammatory cells and proteins that are part of the body's normal disease-fighting immune system. In addition to muscle and joint aches and pain, other symptoms may include fatigue, a low-grade fever at the onset, anemia, loss of appetite and depression.
Most people who develop polymyalgia rheumatica are older than 65. It's most common in women and rare in people under age 50. Blood tests are helpful in making the diagnosis.
Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, are the primary treatment. This treatment usually provides relief from pain and stiffness in the first two or three days.
Typically, corticosteroid treatment will be needed for one to two years. Patients will need to see a physician for frequent follow-ups to manage the condition, adjust the medication to the lowest dose that is effective, and monitor for side effects from the medication. Osteoporosis and loss of bone density are possible side effects. Other possible side effects from long-term corticosteroid use are high blood pressure, diabetes, cataracts and depression.
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