Polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis are
rheumatica (say "paw-lee-my-AL-juh roo-MAT-ih-kuh"), the
joints and the areas around them get stiff and may
ache. It mostly happens in the neck, shoulders, and hip.
cell arteritis (say "ar-tuh-RY-tus"), inflammation occurs in the
blood vessels that carry blood up through the neck to the head. It mostly
affects the arteries that carry blood to the eyes, temple, and jaw. Giant cell arteritis is also called temporal arteritis.
Polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis can occur at the same
time and affect the same groups of people. Experts believe that the two
problems are linked.
Polymyalgia rheumatica is more common. But giant cell
arteritis is more dangerous, because it can cause loss of vision and may lead to
stroke or mini-strokes. People who have giant cell arteritis need
treatment right away.
Experts don't fully understand the cause of these
conditions. It may be that the body's defense system (immune system)
is attacking the body's own tissues. Your
genes may play a role in this. For example, people
whose ancestors are from Scandinavia or Northern Europe are more likely to have
Symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica often start suddenly and get worse without
treatment. The problem can cause:
- Muscle pain and morning stiffness in the
neck, shoulders, and hip area.
- Tiredness and lack of
- Weight loss.
Symptoms of giant cell arteritis
can start either suddenly or slowly. This problem needs treatment right away,
because it can cause blindness, a stroke, or mini-strokes. Symptoms include:
- A headache, often near the temple or around the eye.
- Vision problems.
- Tenderness of
the temple or scalp.
- Pain or aching of the tongue or jaw.
Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask you about
your symptoms and past health. He or she may suggest blood tests to find out if
you have the conditions. Your doctor will have to rule out
arthritis, because the symptoms are similar. To see if
you have giant cell arteritis, a surgeon may take a sample (biopsy) from a blood vessel on your temple and test it
Your doctor will give you
steroid medicines to treat the inflammation. People often feel better in a day or two. Most of
the time, symptoms improve quickly and go away 2 to 4 weeks after treatment
begins. After this, most people need to continue to take steroid medicines for
1 to 2 years or sometimes longer. This helps to control symptoms and to prevent
the problems from coming back.
Steroid medicines can cause your
bones to thin (osteoporosis).
Calcium is important for keeping your bones strong. So
you need to make sure you are getting enough calcium, enough vitamin D, and
enough weight-bearing exercise to strengthen your bones. Your doctor may also
give you a medicine to prevent bone thinning.