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Polymyalgia Rheumatica and Giant Cell Arteritis - Treatment Overview

Corticosteroid medicine is the most common treatment for both polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) and giant cell arteritis (GCA). People with either or both conditions usually have fast relief of their symptoms soon after starting corticosteroid treatment.

Initial treatment

Corticosteroid medicine treats both polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) and giant cell arteritis (GCA). In general, you will use the corticosteroids at a certain dose until your symptoms go away and your lab tests are normal. When this occurs, your doctor will gradually begin reducing your medicine.

For polymyalgia rheumatica

  • You take lower doses of corticosteroids than for giant cell arteritis.
  • You are likely to have a lot of pain relief in a few days. Symptoms usually go away, and your lab results are normal in 2 to 3 weeks. If your symptoms don't start going away in 2 to 4 days, your doctor may give you a higher dose and do further testing to be sure your condition is polymyalgia rheumatica.
  • After your symptoms go away and your lab tests are normal, your doctor will gradually lower your dose, about every few weeks to months.
  • You will probably have to take corticosteroids for about 2 years or more to prevent the symptoms from coming back (relapse). Some people only need to take the medicine for less than a year.

For giant cell arteritis

  • You take higher doses of corticosteroids than used in polymyalgia rheumatica.
  • Because giant cell arteritis can cause serious complications, such as stroke or blindness, your doctor may start treatment immediately, even if the diagnosis has not been confirmed by tests.
  • You are likely to have a lot of pain relief in a few days. Symptoms usually go away, and your lab results are normal in 2 to 4 weeks. If your symptoms don't start to go away, your doctor may give you a higher dose.
  • After your symptoms go away and your lab tests are normal, your doctor will gradually lower your dose, about every 2 to 4 weeks in the first several months, then less often after that.
  • You will probably have to take corticosteroids for 1 to 2 years to prevent relapse, although many people with the condition need them for longer than 2 years.

How long you need to take corticosteroids depends on how severe your condition is, whether it appears cured or not (remission), and how often you have relapses. Some people are not able to completely stop taking corticosteroids. If this happens, your doctor may suggest another medicine such as methotrexate to help control your symptoms and keep the condition from coming back.

Ongoing treatment

After your symptoms have gone away and your lab tests are normal, ongoing treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) and giant cell arteritis (GCA) usually includes continued use of corticosteroid medicine.

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: April 10, 2013
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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