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  • Writer's pictureDr. Chris Phillips

Understanding the Relationship between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Polymyalgia Rheumatica



Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) are both rheumatic conditions that can cause considerable discomfort and affect an individual's quality of life. While they share some similarities in symptoms and demographic prevalence, they are distinct conditions with different characteristics, causes, and treatment approaches.



In this article, we will discuss the differences in these two rheumatic diseases.


Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA):

According to the American College of Rheumatology, Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints, causing inflammation, pain, stiffness, and potential joint damage. The immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues, particularly the synovial membrane lining the joints, resulting in persistent inflammation.


Key Characteristics of RA:


Symmetrical Joint Involvement:

RA typically affects joints in a symmetrical pattern, meaning that if one joint is affected on one side of the body, the corresponding joint on the other side is also affected.


Small Joint Involvement:

RA often affects the small joints of the hands, wrists, and feet. Over time, it can progress to larger joints and other areas of the body.


Systemic Involvement:

Besides joint symptoms, RA can involve other parts of the body like the skin, heart, lungs, and eyes. Fatigue, weight loss, and fever can also occur.


Autoimmune Nature:

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, where the immune system mistakenly targets healthy tissues, primarily the synovial membrane.


Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR):

Polymyalgia Rheumatica is an inflammatory disorder that primarily affects older individuals, usually those over the age of 50. It mainly involves the muscles and connective tissues around the shoulders and hips, causing pain and stiffness (source: According to the American College of Rheumatology).


Key Characteristics of PMR:

Proximal Muscle Involvement:

PMR typically affects the proximal muscles around the shoulders, neck, and hips, leading to stiffness, aching, and limited movement.


Morning Stiffness:

People with PMR often experience severe morning stiffness, making it challenging to get out of bed and perform daily activities.


Elevated Inflammatory Markers:

Blood tests in individuals with PMR often show elevated levels of inflammatory markers, such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP).


Rapid Response to Corticosteroids:

PMR usually responds rapidly to low doses of corticosteroids, which is a crucial diagnostic and therapeutic feature of the condition.


The Relationship Between RA and PMR:

While RA and PMR are distinct conditions, some individuals may experience symptoms that overlap or occur concurrently. It's possible for someone to have both conditions, though this is relatively rare. The overlap in symptoms can make it challenging to differentiate between the two, emphasizing the importance of a thorough medical evaluation and appropriate diagnostic tests.



Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) are separate autoimmune conditions with unique characteristics and primarily affect different parts of the body. However, their symptoms can overlap, leading to potential confusion in diagnosis. A detailed medical evaluation, including clinical assessment and appropriate tests, is crucial to accurately diagnose and tailor treatment for individuals experiencing symptoms related to RA, PMR, or a combination of both conditions. Early and accurate diagnosis ensures prompt intervention and management, improving the individual's quality of life and long-term outcomes.


If you are experiencing any of these symptoms we’re here to help! Send our office your physician’s referral and then call us at 270-408-6100 to schedule an appointment.


We look forward to working with you!


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