Polymyalgia, or polymyalgia rheumatica, is an inflammatory disease of muscle. The cause is uncertain but it is believed to be an autoimmune disease in which the body’s own immune system attacks the connective tissues. The primary symptoms are severe stiffness and pain in the muscles of the neck, shoulder and hip areas. People with this condition also may have flulike symptoms, including fever, weakness and weight loss, and approximately 15 percent develop a potentially dangerous condition called giant cell arteritis – an inflammation of the arteries that supply the head.
Polymyalgia rheumatica usually resolves within 1 to several years. The symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica are quickly controlled by treatment with corticosteroids, but symptoms return if treatment is stopped too early. Corticosteroid treatment does not appear to influence the length of the disease.
Caucasian women over the age of 50 have the highest risk of developing polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis. Although women are more likely than men to develop the conditions, research suggests that men with giant cell arteritis are more likely to suffer potentially blinding eye involvement. Both conditions almost exclusively affect people over the age of 50. The incidence of both peaks between 70 and 80 years of age.