Polymyalgia rheumatica. Ever heard of it? Few people have, and doctors have long had a hard time diagnosing it. A new medical body has established criteria for detecting this little-known condition, and they have much to do with strange pains felt by people older than 50.
While fibromyalgia leads the list of mysterious pain conditions, polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) would be a good thing to look into. And there is new health advice from the American College of Rheumatology that makes it easier to understand. It’s mostly aimed at doctors, but patients in the know are far better off than those in the dark.
PMR occurs in older adults who have recent onset of pain in the shoulders, neck and hips along with other inflammatory symptoms that can’t be explained by other causes. It is actually common in causing widespread aching and stiffness and is hard to diagnose, because it rarely shows up on physical exam. In PMR, the aching is located primarily around the shoulders and hips.
Because pain and stiffness is not rare among older adults, PMR can go unrecognized. And minimal research has been done into treatments. The new study is a step in the right direction. To figure PMR out, researchers compared symptoms to rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions that strike the shoulders and hips — then winnowed it down to exactly what characteristics existed for PMR only.
In all, PMR is a common inflammatory rheumatic disease that affects more than 700,000 older Americans. Under the new criteria, patients 50 years and older can be classified as having PMR if they meet these five conditions:
1. Shoulder pain on both sides
2. Morning stiffness that lasts at least 45 minutes
3. High levels of inflammation (measured by blood tests)
4. Reported new hip pain
5. No swelling in the small joints of the hands and feet, and no positive test for rheumatoid arthritis
Conventional medicine deals with PMR by administering low-dose corticosteroid medication. The new criteria will help assess how beneficial it is to treat a condition by ensuring it is the condition in question. What remains to be seen is whether the top natural remedies for fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis can also work for PMR. These include 5-HTP, capsaicin, SAMe, acupuncture, massage, fish oil and bromelain.