December 01, 2011

Polymyalgia rheumatica

Treatment produces dramatic pain relief

Polymyalgia rheumatica

The sudden and deep ache in the muscles of your shoulders defies explanation. It hurts to comb your hair or put on a jacket. On top of that, getting out of bed has become increasingly difficult the last few days as pain and stiffness have now settled into your hips and upper legs. Maybe this is some new form of flu — you feel as if you've aged 20 years in just a matter of days.

Actually, your doctor suspects the problem may be a treatable inflammatory disorder called polymyalgia rheumatica (pol-ee-my-AL-juh roo-MA-tih-kah). As debilitating as the pain can be, proper treatment can often improve the symptoms in a matter of days or even overnight. Keeping the disorder in check as it subsides usually involves careful medication management over one to two years, and sometimes longer.

Behind the inflammation

Inflammation is your body's usual response to injury or disease. But in some disorders — known collectively as rheumatic diseases — inflammatory activity erupts where there's no apparent need for the response. Such is the case with polymyalgia rheumatica.

Although the cause of polymyalgia rheumatica isn't well understood, the pain and stiffness of the disorder result from the activity of inflammatory cells and proteins that are normally a part of your body's disease-fighting immune system. That inflammatory activity is generally concentrated in tissues surrounding the affected joints, resulting in signs and symptoms that usually begin quickly over a few days. These may include: