Polymyalgia rheumatica may raise the risk for heart attack and stroke in older adults. Polymyalgia rheumatica is an inflammatory muscle disorder that leads to pain and stiffness.
Author Dr. Christian Mallen wrote, “Polymyalgia rheumatica is one of the most common inflammatory rheumatologic conditions in older adults, with a lifetime risk of 2.4% for women and 1.7% for men.”
Other inflammatory diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, have also been shown to increase the risk of vascular diseases.
Researchers looked at data from 3,249 patients with polymyalgia rheumatica and 12,735 patients without the condition who were treated by doctors in the U.K. None of the patients had a history of vascular disease prior to the study. The researchers found that polymyalgia rheumatica patients had a higher risk for all vascular diseases, and the risk was highest six to 12 months after diagnosis. The risk was also seen to be similar for both men and women.
The authors wrote, “Our results showed that patients with polymyalgia rheumatica had an increased risk of all types of vascular events, even after traditional risk factors for vascular disease were controlled for. This excess risk was present soon after diagnosis, was present in both men and women.”
Patients aged 50 to 59 had a fivefold increase, compared to a threefold risk seen in patients over the age of 80. The authors continued, “This early excess risk provides insight into potential mechanisms and supports the link between inflammation and vascular disease, given that the inflammatory burden in polymyalgia rheumatica…is highest in early disease.”
The authors suggest that doctors should manage vascular risk factors in polymylagia rheumatica patients in order to reduce their risk.
Polymyalgia rheumatica symptoms and causes
The exact cause of polymyalgia rheumatica is unknown, but it is believed that genetics and environmental exposure play a role. For example, new cases of polymyalgia rheumatica have been found to occur seasonally, suggesting an environmental trigger, but no specific virus or bacteria have been found as of yet.
Giant cell arteritis has also been found to contribute to the onset of polymyalgia rheumatica. In fact, some suggest the two diseases may actually be the same condition with different manifestations. Signs and symptoms of giant cell arteritis are common in polymyalgia patients, and vice versa.
Symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica include:
- Pain and stiffness
- Loss of appetite
- Sudden, unintentional weight loss
- Low-grade fever
- Limited range of motion
Polymyalgia rheumatica risk factors and complications
Risk factors for polymyalgia rheumatica include gender – women are twice as likely as men to develop it, – age, race, and geographic location. White Northern European populations are at a higher risk of developing polymyalgia rheumatica.
Complications of polymyalgia rheumatica affect patients’ daily life, making it difficult for them to move and perform tasks on their own due to stiffness and pain. It may become difficult to get in and out of bed, bathe oneself, or even comb their hair and get dressed.
Polymyalgia rheumatica treatment
Polymyalgia rheumatica does not have a cure, but treatment is aimed to ease and relieve symptoms.
Doctors often prescribe low-dose corticosteroids, along with over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications. Unfortunately, there are long-term side effects of corticosteroids, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, depression, weight gain, diabetes, osteoporosis, and cataracts.
In order to reduce side effects, your doctor may prescribe calcium and vitamin D for your bones, along with recommending physical therapy and a healthy lifestyle, which includes a well-balanced diet and regular exercise.
Routine blood tests may be advised in order to monitor cholesterol and blood sugar levels, along with monitoring blood pressure numbers. It’s important that you partake in follow-up testing to ensure no further complications arise from the medication as well as polymyalgia rheumatica.