Polymyalgia rheumatica (PR) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) both cause joint pain, but in RA, a person’s immune cells attack the lining of the joints, as well as other parts of the body, such as the eyes.
Keep reading to learn more about PR versus RA, including symptoms, diagnosis, and treatments.
RA is an inflammatory condition in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the synovium, which is the lining of joints. Over time, it leads to destruction of the affected joints, resulting in inflammation, pain, and reduced mobility. RA can also affect other parts of the body, such as the eyes and blood vessels.
PR is an inflammatory condition that experts believe could be autoimmune, meaning it is potentially the result of the immune system attacking healthy tissue. However, unlike RA, PR does not result in the same damage to joints, and it does not affect other parts of the body.
Consequently, RA is more serious than PR. It is systemic, meaning it affects the whole body, and it is a lifelong condition, whereas PR can go away within a few years.
Although some symptoms in PR and RA overlap, there are differences, as RA causes much broader effects.
|joint pain and swelling, typically affecting small joints in the hands or feet first||joint pain and swelling, often in the neck, shoulders, upper arms, hips, buttocks, or thighs|
|morning stiffness that lasts 30 minutes or longer||morning stiffness or stiffness after inactivity|
|affects more than one joint and is often symmetrical, affecting joints on both sides of the body||affects more than one joint or body part|
|low grade fever||fever|
|potential weight gain that can occur if a person finds RA makes it difficult to stay physically active||weight loss|
|skin symptoms, such as small lumps on body parts||loss of appetite|
|eye redness, pain, or sensitivity to light|
|mouth dryness or gum inflammation|
|lung inflammation or scarring, which could lead to shortness of breath|
|blood vessel inflammation|
|decreased red blood cells|
|heart inflammation, which can damage heart muscles|
PR can co-occur with giant cell arteritis, a condition involving inflammation of the lining of arteries that can lead to very serious health events.
RF is an autoantibody that is specific to RA. If a person has RA symptoms, and both autoantibodies, it indicates they have the condition.
Conversely, PR is not associated with specific antibodies, Instead, doctors
Doctors base a PR diagnosis on a high ESR and high CRP levels, which indicate inflammation is present, along with the main symptoms.
Some of the same medications can treat PR and RA. However, because RA has more widespread effects, it requires a broader spectrum of drug and non-drug interventions.
The main treatment for PR is corticosteroids, which are anti-inflammatory medications that reduce stiffness and pain. Prednisone (Deltasone) is an example. Doctors prescribe a low dose, and symptoms usually improve rapidly.
For mild cases, doctors occasionally recommend nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen (Motrin), to help relieve pain and inflammation. Gentle exercise and rest also play a role in reducing stiffness and aiding recovery.
In some situations, a doctor may prescribe a type of drug known as a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD). These drugs also reduce inflammation and may be effective in people whose condition does not respond to steroids, or who have severe or unusual symptoms.
Medication options for RA include the
- NSAIDs: As with PR, these drugs are used to help reduce inflammation and pain.
- DMARDs: These medications block inflammation to help preserve joints. They are available as biological varieties, which living cells produce, and nonbiological varieties, which scientists make in a laboratory. An example of a biologic is etanercept (Enbrel), and a nonbiologic example is methotrexate (Trexall).
- Corticosteroids: In some cases, doctors also prescribe corticosteroids for RA, but long-term use has a range of risks.
Other treatments can
- physical therapy
- occupational therapy
Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about PR and RA.
Can PR turn into RA?
There is no current evidence that PR can turn into RA. The conditions have different underlying mechanisms.
Can you have both PR and RA?
Presently, there is no research suggesting that PR raises the risk of RA, or vice versa. This suggests it may be unlikely for someone to have both.
Does PR or RA go away?
PR does. It typically lasts 1–5 years. In contrast, RA does not go away. It is a progressive condition that currently does not have a cure.
Which is worse?
RA lasts longer and has more impactful effects on the body than PR.
When PR is promptly treated, a person typically has an excellent outlook. Their life expectancy is
Comparing polymyalgia rheumatica (PR) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) shows differences in symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and a person’s outlook.
Both PR and RA cause joint pain and stiffness, but RA can also affect the skin, eyes, mouth, blood vessels, and heart. The presence of certain autoantibodies indicates RA, while the presence of inflammatory substances suggests a PR diagnosis.
PR treatment involves corticosteroids. RA treatment includes other drug and non-drug treatments that a person may need to continue long-term to help prevent joint damage.
If a person feels they may have PR or RA, it is important that they talk with a healthcare professional to get a proper diagnosis and treatment.