Diagnosis and management of polymyalgia rheumatica/giant cell arteritis

Carlo Salvarani, Luigi Macchioni, Ignazio Olivieri, Fabrizio Cantini, Luigi Boiardi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There are no standardised diagnostic criteria for polymyalgia rheumatica. The combination of persistent pain (at least 1 month) with marked morning stiffness in at least 2 of the neck, shoulder or pelvic girdle is characteristic of polymyalgia rheumatica. The other criteria are age >50 years, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) >40 mm/hour, rapid response to corticosteroids and an absence of other diseases capable of causing the musculoskeletal symptoms. A normal ESR does not exclude a diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatica. Diagnostic temporal artery biopsy is recommended in all patients suspected of having giant cell arteritis. The segment of temporal artery with abnormality on physical examination should be biopsied. The drugs of choice in the treatment of polymyalgia rheumatica/giant cell arteritis are corticosteroids. An initial prednisone dosage of 40 to 60 mg/day is adequate in almost all cases of giant cell arteritis. Higher dosages and/or intravenous pulse methylprednisolone can be tried on patients with partial response or with recent visual loss. Polymyalgia rheumatica in the absence of giant cell arteritis requires an initial dose of prednisone 10 to 20 mg/day. In some cases of mild polymyalgia rheumatica, a short course of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be tried. Long term corticosteroid therapy in polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis is complicated by serious adverse effects in between 48 and 65% of patients. Vertebral fractures and infections are among the most dangerous and frequent complications. Although there are limited data on the use of cytotoxic or immunosuppressive drugs, such as methotrexate, azathioprine and cyclosporin, in these indications, they might be effective either in sparing corticosteroids or in treating patients who do not respond to treatment with corticosteroids.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-32
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology (medical)
  • Immunology and Allergy
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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