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What Is It?

Polymyalgia rheumatica is a form of arthritis. It causes pain in the joints and muscles of the lower back, thighs, hips, neck, shoulder and upper arms, and other parts of the body.

The condition occurs when the lining surrounding the joints, bursa and tendons near the shoulders and hips becomes inflamed.

The disease is centered on the joints (especially the shoulders and hips). But the discomfort is felt in the upper arms and thighs. This type of pain is called referred pain. It arises in one area but causes symptoms in another.

Typically, polymyalgia rheumatica affects people older than 55. Left untreated, it can lead to stiffness and significant disability. In some cases, symptoms do not get worse. They may even lessen in a few years.

In a minority of cases, polymyalgia rheumatica is associated with giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis). This is a condition in which blood vessels are inflamed, especially in the neck and head. Untreated giant cell arteritis can cause blindness or stroke.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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