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Am Fam Physician. 2022;106(4):420-426

Patient information: See related handout on polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis.

This clinical content conforms to AAFP criteria for CME.

Author disclosure: No relevant financial relationships.

Polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis are inflammatory conditions that occur predominantly in people 50 years and older, with peak incidence at 70 to 75 years of age. Polymyalgia rheumatica is more common and typically presents with constitutional symptoms, proximal muscle pain, and elevated inflammatory markers. Diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatica is clinical, consisting of at least two weeks of proximal muscle pain, constitutional symptoms, and elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate or C-reactive protein. Treatment of polymyalgia rheumatica includes moderate-dose glucocorticoids with a prolonged taper. Giant cell arteritis, also known as temporal arteritis, usually presents with new-onset headache, visual disturbances or changes, constitutional symptoms, scalp tenderness, and temporal artery symptoms. Inflammatory markers are markedly elevated. Temporal arterial biopsy should be used for diagnosis. However, color duplex ultrasonography, magnetic resonance imaging, and fluorodeoxyglucose positron emission tomography may be helpful when biopsy is negative or unavailable. All patients with suspected giant cell arteritis should receive empiric high-dose glucocorticoids because the condition may lead to blindness if untreated. Tocilizumab is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for giant cell arteritis and should be considered in addition to glucocorticoids for initial therapy. Polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis respond quickly to appropriate dosing of glucocorticoids but typically require prolonged treatment and have high rates of relapse; therefore, monitoring for glucocorticoid-related adverse effects and symptoms of relapse is necessary. Methotrexate may be considered as an adjunct to glucocorticoids in patients with polymyalgia rheumatica or giant cell arteritis who are at high risk of relapse.

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