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Polymyalgia rheumatica

Find out how polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is treated. Steroids are the preferred treatment, with a type of corticosteroid called prednisolone usually being prescribed.

Steroid medication is the main treatment for polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR).

A type of corticosteroid called prednisolone is usually prescribed.

Prednisolone

Prednisolone works by blocking the effects of certain chemicals that cause inflammation inside your body. It doesn't cure polymyalgia rheumatica, but it can help relieve the symptoms.

When used to treat polymyalgia rheumatica, prednisolone is taken as a tablet. Most people will be prescribed several tablets to take once a day.

You'll be prescribed a high dose of prednisolone to start with, and the dose will be gradually reduced every one to two months.

Although your symptoms should improve within a few days of starting treatment, you'll probably need to continue taking a low dose of prednisolone for about two years.

In many cases, polymyalgia rheumatica improves on its own after this time. However, there's a chance it will return after treatment stops, known as a relapse.

Don't suddenly stop taking steroid medication unless your doctor tells you it's safe to do so. Suddenly stopping treatment with steroids can make you very ill.

Side effects of prednisolone

About 1 in 20 people who take prednisolone will experience changes in their mental state when they take the medication.

You may feel depressed and suicidal, anxious or confused. Some people also experience hallucinations, which is seeing or hearing things that aren't there.

Contact your GP as soon as possible if you experience changes to your mental state. 

Other side effects of prednisolone include:

You should seek immediate medical advice if you think you've been exposed to the varicella-zoster virus or if a member of your household develops chickenpox or shingles.

The risk of these side effects should improve as your dose of prednisolone is decreased.

See side effects of corticosteroids for more information about how these side effects may affect you and how they're treated.

Other medications

Sometimes other medicines may be combined with corticosteroids to help prevent relapses or allow your dose of prednisolone to be reduced.

Some people are prescribed immunosuppressant medication, such as methotrexate. This is used to suppress the immune system, the body's defence against infection and illness.

It may help people with polymyalgia rheumatica who have frequent relapses or don't respond to normal steroid treatment.

Your doctor may recommend painkillers, such as paracetamol or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), to help relieve your pain and stiffness while your dose of prednisolone is reduced.

Follow-up

You'll have regular follow-up appointments to check how well you're responding to treatment, whether your dose of prednisolone needs to be adjusted, and how well you're coping with the medication's side effects.

During these appointments, you'll have blood tests to check the levels of inflammation inside your body.

Follow-up appointments are usually recommended every few weeks for the first three months, and then at three- to six-monthly intervals after this time.

Contact your GP if your symptoms return during any part of your treatment. Your dosage may need to be adjusted.

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