What are polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis?

Polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis are closely linked inflammatory disorders. Some people have one of the disorders while others develop both of them.

Polymyalgia rheumatica causes muscle pain and stiffness in the shoulders, upper arms, hip area, and sometimes the neck.

Giant cell arteritis causes inflammation of arteries, especially those on each side of the head, scalp, and the aorta (the large artery that carries blood from the heart) and its main branches. The main symptoms of this disorder are:

  • Headaches.
  • Scalp tenderness.
  • Jaw pain.
  • Problems with your eyes, which may lead to permanent blindness if left untreated.

    Who gets polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis? 

    You are more likely to get polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis if you have certain risk factors. These include:

    • Age. These disorders almost always happen in people older than age 50.
    • Sex. Women get these disorders more frequently than men do.
    • Ethnic and racial background. They are more common in Caucasians, especially people of Northern European ancestry.

    What are the symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis?

    Symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica include:

    • Pain and stiffness in the shoulders, neck, upper arms, and hip area.
      • The pain and stiffness are usually worse upon waking in the morning or after resting, and usually last an hour or more. You may have difficulty:
        • Getting up from bed or a chair.
        • Dressing.
        • Brushing your hair.
        • Raising your arms above your shoulders.
    • Flu-like symptoms, including low-grade fever, weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
    • Swelling of the wrists or joints in the hands.

    Symptoms of giant cell arteritis include:

    • Headaches and scalp tenderness. These are the most common symptoms. The headache pain may be severe and is usually located in the temple areas.
    • Jaw pain, especially when chewing.
    • Visual problems. Many people have double vision or vision loss in one or both eyes. At first, the visual disturbances may last only a few minutes and go away on their own. It is important to see a health care provider right away if you have visual symptoms, because if left untreated, they can lead to permanent vision loss within hours or days.
    • Flu-like symptoms, such as low-grade fever, weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss.
    • Problems with large arteries, including inflammation of the aorta and its major branches can lead to bulging of the artery (aneurysms) or, due to blockages in the arteries, cause cramping or aching pain in the arms or legs with activity.

    What causes polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis?

    Inflammation causes polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis, but doctors do not know what triggers it. Because the disorders occur in older people, the aging process may play a part.

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