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Polymyalgia Rheumatica: Care Instructions

Your Care Instructions

Polymyalgia rheumatica causes pain and swelling in joints and muscles, mainly in the hips, neck, and shoulders. Pain and swelling may be worse in the morning. This condition can occur quickly and often lasts for a year or two. Your doctor will treat you with medicine to reduce swelling. Your symptoms should get much better in 1 to 3 days and go away in 2 to 4 weeks. Still, you may need to take medicine to prevent it from coming back. You may be on the medicine for 1 to 2 years or longer.

Some people who have this also get giant cell arteritis (temporal arteritis), which causes swelling of some blood vessels in the head. Tell your doctor if you have any headaches, jaw pain, or tightness or tenderness along the temple or scalp. This condition can cause blindness if it is not treated. Tell your doctor if you have problems with your vision, including blurring or seeing double.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think you are having a problem with your medicine. You may get medicines to reduce pain and to keep your bones from getting thin.
  • Take anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce pain, if your doctor recommends them. These include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Make sure to drink milk and eat dairy products, such as low-fat cheese and yogurt. Ask your doctor how much calcium you need. If you cannot eat dairy products or you do not get enough calcium from food, you may take pills.
  • Do gentle weight lifting to protect your bones. This is very important for women who have gone through menopause.
  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have a headache, jaw pain, or problems seeing.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your joint and muscle pain or stiffness gets worse.
  • You have side effects from your corticosteroid medicine, such as:
    • Signs of diabetes (feeling thirsty all the time, needing to urinate often).
    • Signs of infection (fever, chills, cough, burning during urination, severe sore throat, or skin infection).
    • A large weight gain.
    • Mood changes.
    • Trouble sleeping.
    • Bruising easily.
  • You have any other problems with your medicine.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.