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Arthritis Health Center

Questions and Answers about Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis

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What Is the Outlook?

Most people with polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis lead productive, active lives. The duration of drug treatment differs by patient. Once treatment is discontinued, polymyalgia may recur; but once again, symptoms respond rapidly to prednisone. When properly treated, giant cell arteritis rarely recurs.

What Research Is Being Conducted to Help People Who Have Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis?

Research is providing new information that will help scientists better understand polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis. The following issues are being studied:

Causes and mechanisms—Researchers studying possible causes of polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis are investigating the role of genetic predisposition, immune system problems, and environmental factors. In one study supported by the National Eye Institute, researchers are attempting to better understand the immunobiology of inflamed arteries and advance the understanding of events that initiate vasculitis. Other research funded by the National Eye Institute is using a mouse model of giant cell arteritis to examine interactions between the immune system and blood vessels, and to explain the tissue damage that results.

Prognostic indicators—By examining characteristics of people with and without the conditions, doctors are starting to understand some factors that are associated with both the disease, and its prognosis and manifestations. For example, one study has shown that women are more likely than men to have jaw involvement from giant cell arteritis, while men are more likely to have eye involvement that can lead to blindness.

Treatment—While treatment with prednisone is almost always effective for both conditions, the drug carries the risk of potentially serious side effects. For that reason, one area of investigation involves looking for treatments that are safe while still being effective. A study funded by the National Center for Research Resources is looking at whether high doses of intravenous corticosteroid drugs given at the time of diagnosis can control giant cell arteritis more quickly, make it possible to prescribe lower subsequent doses of oral steroids, and control the disease with fewer drug side effects than current prednisone regimens.

Longitudinal information—As part of the NIH-funded Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network, scientists participating in the Vasculitis Clinical Research Consortium are collecting clinical and laboratory information from patients with giant cell arteritis to follow the disease over an extended period of time. Data from these studies will be used to examine the genetics and causes of giant cell arteritis, find new ways to track disease and predict responses, understand how to treat patients, and much more.

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