What is Polymyalgia rheumatica?
Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is an inflammatory condition, often linked to Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA). The condition occurs mainly in women over 60, and the cause is not known.
Symptoms include muscle aches, stiffness in hips, shoulders, neck and mid body, weakness, general tiredness, and weight loss. Some people get swelling in their feet, ankles, wrists and hands. (Vasculitis UK)
PMR is becoming increasingly common, with an estimated 1 in 1,200 people developing the condition each year.
How is it treated?
The standard medical treatment for PMR is steroids, usually prednisolone, to relieve the symptoms. The NHS state that high dose steroids are used to start with and then the dose is decreased, and treatments can last for two years or more to prevent symptoms reoccurring. (NHS website)
Are there alternative treatments?
There are three main aims to alternative treatments.
- Reduce the side effects of the drugs
The following are the main side effects that patients of mine have experiences from taking prednisolone.
- Higher blood sugar
- Weight gain
- Thinning of skin
While these things can be addressed individually through a 1 to 1 consultation with a medical herbalist, here are some ideas for home treatment.
Herbs for side effects
There are many very safe herbs to aid digestion and protect from damage the delicate tissues that are prone to ulcers. Examples are peppermint, chamomile, meadowsweet and marshmallow leaf.
Balancing blood sugar
There are several safe herbs that can be used to naturally bring blood sugar into balance. Examples are cinnamon and dandelion leaf.
There are several safe herbs that can be used to aid a good night’s sleep. Examples are chamomile, lime flower, passion flower and valerian.
There are many herbs that can improve circulation. Examples include ginger, chilli, hawthorn and lime flower. Brightly coloured fruits and vegetables can also help to improve the functioning of arteries and veins.
Often when taking steroid drugs for long periods of time the adrenal glands can stop producing cortisol. Cortisol is needed to fight infection and allow the body to cope with stress.
When you stop taking steroid drugs your adrenal glands can begin making cortisol again but it can often take time. There are a couple of things you can do to help, cortisol needs cholesterol so eating fats in your diet will help, cod liver oil and vitamin A is also important. It’s also important to reduce sugar, caffeine and alcohol.
- Reduce general inflammation to reduce pain
This is something that you can address yourself if you have PMR, there are some very useful studies on the use of herbs to reduce inflammation.
I agree with them, and these herbs are available as over the counter products, it is important to follow the directions for each individual product as directed on the bottle.
I would also add turmeric to the list, it is a very useful anti-inflammatory and is also available as an over the counter product.
- Get to the root cause of the problem
The key to a holistic treatment is treating the cause of the problem rather than just the symptoms; this is something you can work towards with a medical herbalist.
Remember to check with your doctor and/or medical herbalist before taking supplements or herbs, and it is important to source good quality ingredients.
To find a qualified, registered, medical herbalist near you they can be found on the following lists:
- The National Institute of Medical herbalists
- The College of Practitioners of Phytotherapy
- The Association of Master Herbalists
- The Unified Register of Herbal Practitioners
As an update to this blog, I actually gave a talk for a local branch of Polymyalgia Rheumatica & Giant Cell Arteritis UK and that really gave me a much greater understanding of the condition and the problems patients were facing.
The main thing I really took away from that was that people wanted help to reduce their medications, and almost every person in the room was already taking turmeric. I explained about how it is often not bioavailable in the body and ways to increase that (adding black pepper and or ginger).