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Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Temporal Arteritis

Can Other Problems Mimic Polymyalgia Rheumatica?

Yes. Some other illnesses that may be confused with polymyalgia rheumatica include:

How Are Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Temporal Arteritis Treated?

There is no known cure for polymyalgia rheumatica and temporal arteritis, but these diseases can be treated and controlled. Corticosteroids -- often called "steroids" -- help rapidly relieve the symptoms of both conditions.

Treatment with steroids -- usually in the form of prednisone -- is mandatory for temporal arteritis to prevent serious complications, such as blindness. Low doses of steroids are often successful in treating polymyalgia rheumatica. Higher doses are often required to treat temporal arteritis.

The excellent response to treatment is so uniform that the lack of dramatic improvement, within days, would make the diagnosis of temporal arteritis or polymyalgia rheumatica doubtful.

Steroids reduce the function of inflammatory cells that cause these illnesses. Consequently, steroids minimize tissue damage. Steroids also impair the immune system -- thus increasing the risk of infection.

The decision to prescribe steroids is always made on an individual basis. Your doctor will consider your age, presence of other illnesses and medications you are taking. Your doctor also will make sure you understand the potential benefits and risks of steroids before you start taking them.

You will have frequent blood tests while taking steroids to monitor possible side effects and to evaluate the effectiveness of therapy. These blood tests can usually detect problems before you are aware of any symptoms. Your doctor will frequently evaluate your heart and lung function and blood sugar level, which may increase after you start taking steroids.

While taking steroids, it is important to keep all appointments with your doctor and the lab, and have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Because steroids increase your chance for developing infections, report symptoms such as a cough, fever, or shortness of breath to your doctor.

Long-term steroid treatment (for a few months to several years) requires additional testing and monitoring. The long-term use of steroids can cause osteoporosis (bone loss), which can be detected with scans similar to X-rays. Taking supplements of calcium and vitamin D, sometimes along with prescription medication is recommended to prevent osteoporosis in people taking steroids. Discuss the potential side effects caused by long-term steroid therapy with your doctor.

What Is the Long-Term Outlook for Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Temporal Arteritis?

With careful monitoring and appropriate treatment, most patients with polymyalgia rheumatica or temporal arteritis have a normal life span and lifestyle. Most of the time, these diseases can be successfully controlled with steroids and other drugs. The success of treatment is related to prompt diagnosis, aggressive treatment, and careful follow-up to prevent or minimize side effects from the medications.


WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on September 06, 2014

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