Polymyalgia Rheumatica: An Autoimmune Disease

Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is an autoimmune disease. Learn why it is considered an autoimmune disease and what it means to you as someone with PMR.

Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is considered an autoimmune disease. Why? Let’s find out the reasons but first, it is important to define some terms to understand this condition.

What Is Polymyalgia?

“Poly” is a prefix which means many or multiple. “Myalgia” means pain in a muscle or muscles. Rheumatica comes from the Greek “rheuma” which means to flow. Thus, polymyalgia rheumatica is defined as a disease characterized by pain and stiffness flowing all over the body, usually occurring in the upper body from the hips, the neck, shoulders, and upper arms.

What Is an Auto Immune Disease?

Three Pain Areas of Polymyalgia Rheumatica
Polymyalgia sufferers experience muscle pains in the shoulders, upper arms, and hips.

We know that our body has an immune system that works like a defense from all infections or invasions that can make a person weak or sick. When the body develops an autoimmune disease, it can be likened to an army of soldiers attacking its own comrades. The body’s immune system attacks the healthy tissues, and in a way fails to activate the antibodies to protect the good cells.

About 100 different types of autoimmune disease can affect people of all ages and race. According to the American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association (AARDA), it affects approximatelt 50 million Americans. Click here for the complete List of Autoimmune Diseases. The most commonly known autoimmune diseases are psoriasis, diabetes type 1, systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjögren’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis. Many of these diseases have symptoms that are similar so some laboratory tests are required in diagnosing them accurately. But there’s one common among autoimmune disease symptoms – inflammation.

Role of White Blood Cells in Autoimmune Diseases

White blood cells (WBC) are also referred to as leukocytes or leucocytes. They are the defenses that protect the body from infections or free radicals. The white blood cells attack bacteria, germs, viruses that invade the body. The bone marrow produces the white blood cells but they circulate throughout the body.

However, there are cases when your white blood cell count are not normal. This is revealed by a Complete Blood Count (CBC) result. When the white blood cell count is lower than normal, it can be an indication of a viral infection, congenital disorders or certain forms of cancer.

Similarly, when your bone marrow has increased white blood cells than normal, it means that the WBC is trying to fight an infection. Or it can be a reaction to certain medications. High production of WBC is also an indicator of problems with the bone marrow.  And important to note, increased WBC results from inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases.

Why PMR is an Autoimmune Disease

Polymyalgia rheumatica is a rare autoimmune disorder according to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD).  Its cause is unknown and usually attributed to factors such as genetics and infections. Another factor is aging process. In the USA, seven hundred out of 100,000 people over 50 years old have PMR.

Here’s another evidence that will explain why PMR is an autoimmune disorder. Medical experts say that PMR is related to another autoimmune disease called giant cell arteritis (GCA).

Giant Cell Arteritis

GCA causes the inflammation of the temporal artery although other arteries in the body can also be affected. Researchers show that polymyalgia rheumatica coexists in 40% of GCA patients. In the same way that about ten percent of PMR patients develop GCA.

Treatment of PMR

There are no treatments for polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) or any autoimmune diseases. Doctors focus only on symptoms relief. Medications given are addressed to suppress the immune system (immunosuppressant) or to relieve pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs such as steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) are also prescribed. Self-medication is a risk so consult with your rheumatologist for the right medicines to take.

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