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Rheumatology groups publish classification criteria for polymyalgia rheumatica

Published on 05 March 2012
05 Mar: Rheumatology groups publish classification criteria for polymyalgia rheumatica

The first ever classification criteria for polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) - a common cause of widespread aching and stiffness in older adults - have  been published by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) and the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR).

The condition is characterised by pain in the shoulders and hips and other inflammatory symptoms, typically in people over the age of 50.

Symptoms are similar to those caused by other illnesses, making it difficult to diagnose, but the new criteria should make it easier for doctors to identify patients with the condition.

They were developed by analysing patients with symptoms found in PMR over a six-month period and then determining whether patients had PMR or another condition with similar symptoms.

Researchers then recorded the disease features that were characteristic of PMR and that separated patients with the condition from those with other conditions.

The resulting criteria state that patients aged 50 years and older may be deemed to have PMR if they meet all of the specified conditions.

These are: shoulder pain on both sides; morning stiffness that lasts at least 45 minutes; high levels of inflammation measured by protein in blood and erythrocyte sedimentation; new hip pain; absence of swelling in the small joints of the hands and feet; and negative blood tests for rheumatoid arthritis.

Dr Eric Matteson, ACR member and chief of rheumatology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine in the US, was one of the lead investigators who helped to develop the criteria.

He said: "Fulfilment of these criteria will help to ensure that patients with the same disease are being evaluated, which will enhance our ability to study the disease, including performing outcomes studies and clinical trials.

"Still, there is much to be done to develop better tests for the diagnosis, assessment of disease activity and outcomes of PMR, including further assessment of the new criteria."

The study that produced the new criteria is published in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

A spokesman for Arthritis Research UK welcomed the new criteria. "These new criteria, together with the guidelines produced for GPs by the British Society for Rheumatology last year, should make a big difference to the way that this common condition is diagnosed and treated," he added.

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