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Polymyalgia rheumatica
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Polymyalgia rheumatica

Contributors: Michael W. Winter MD, Annie Yang MD, Paritosh Prasad MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is a relatively common rheumatological condition that primarily affects individuals over the age of 50. PMR is characterized by neck and bilateral shoulder stiffness and pain with involvement of the upper arms, thighs, and hips. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected.

The exact etiology of PMR is undetermined, but it is believed to be in the same spectrum of disease as giant cell arteritis (GCA) because the same family of HLA serotypes, HLA-DR4, is affected in both. Like other autoimmune conditions, in PMR, there is likely interplay between genetic and environmental factors causing a dysregulation of the immune system.

The European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) / American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 2012 provisional classification criteria for PMR are:
  • Patient is 50 years or older
  • Bilateral shoulder pain is not better explained by an alternative diagnosis
  • Presence of morning stiffness for more than 45 minutes
  • Elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) and/or erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
  • New hip pain
In addition, the absence of peripheral (small joints of hands and feet) synovitis or of positive rheumatoid arthritis serology increases the likelihood of PMR.

Diagnosis of PMR is generally made on clinical grounds. The patient can present with slow, subacute or chronic symptoms of malaise, fever, weight loss, night sweats, and anorexia. Pain and stiffness, rather than weakness, are common presenting symptoms and generally involve the upper arms, posterior neck, lumbar region, and / or pelvic girdle.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasonography are equally effective in confirming PMR. Common shoulder lesions in PMR are subacromial or subdeltoid bursitis. Some patients present with "benign synovitis," which on ultrasound will not demonstrate true joint erosions. Glenohumeral joint synovitis and long-head biceps tenosynovitis can also coexist in PMR.

A patient's rapid response to corticosteroids may help confirm the diagnosis of PMR (steroids will decrease the pain associated with other inflammatory conditions as well).

PMR and GCA:
GCA is a systemic vasculitis affecting medium- to large-sized arteries, including the aorta and the extracranial branches of the carotid artery. PMR and GCA have a significant clinical association: 16%-21% of cases of PMR are associated with GCA, and 40%-60% of patients diagnosed with GCA also have PMR.


M35.3 – Polymyalgia rheumatica

65323003 – Polymyalgia rheumatica

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Diagnostic Pearls

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Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

PMR and Giant cell arteritis have a significant clinical association, and GCA should be suspected in patients with PMR who present with headache, visual disturbances, jaw claudication, upper cranial palsies, scalp tenderness, and/or decreased temporal artery pulse.

The differential diagnosis for PMR is broad and can be divided into inflammatory and noninflammatory, infectious, neoplastic, and of neuroendocrine origin. In each case, the history and physical examination along with other supporting evidence will aid in diagnosis. PMR involves the shoulders, neck, upper arms, thighs, and hips. The absence of shoulder involvement is rare and should prompt strong consideration of an alternative diagnosis.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Fibromyalgia – diffuse pain present without clinical biomarkers
  • Polymyositis – proximal weakness rather than pain, creatine kinase (CK) elevated
  • Lumbar spinal stenosis – stiffness and pain restricted to the hip girdle region with or without MRI findings
  • Statin-induced myositis – elevated CK, alleviation of symptoms after discontinuation of statin
  • Parkinson disease – tremor, rigidity, bradykinesia, and coordination deficits of gradual onset
  • Stigmata of endocarditis (see Subacute bacterial endocarditis)
  • AL amyloidosis
  • Myelodysplastic syndromes
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Adhesive capsulitis of the shoulder / rotator cuff lesions
  • Osteoarthritis – response to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); x-ray imaging showing narrowing of joint space and osteophytes
  • Septic arthritis
  • Hypothyroidism / Primary hyperparathyroidism
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – muscular weakness with ascending pattern without sensory involvement, with or without foot drop
  • Polyarteritis nodosa

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Drug Reaction Data

Below is a list of drugs with literature evidence indicating an adverse association with this diagnosis. The list is continually updated through ongoing research and new medication approvals. Click on Citations to sort by number of citations or click on Medication to sort the medications alphabetically.

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Last Reviewed:03/28/2019
Last Updated:03/28/2019
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Polymyalgia rheumatica
A medical illustration showing key findings of Polymyalgia rheumatica : Neck pain, CRP elevated, ESR elevated, Bilateral shoulder pain
Clinical image of Polymyalgia rheumatica - imageId=5702216. Click to open in gallery.
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