Challenges of diagnosing and managing polymyalgia rheumatica: A multi-methods study in UK general practice

Toby Helliwell, Sara Muller, Samantha L. Hider, Irena Zwierska, Sarah Lawton, Jane Richardson, Christian Mallen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background Polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) is one of the most common inflammatory arthritic disorders seen in older individuals. Most patients with PMR are diagnosed and managed exclusively in general practice, yet primary care-focused research is lacking. Aim To identify and explore the challenges of diagnosis and management of PMR in general practice. Design and setting A multi-methods study in UK primary care. Method The multi-methods study comprised two complementary studies: a national questionnaire survey of 5000 randomly selected GPs from across the UK; and a qualitative semi-structured telephone interview study of UK GPs. Simple descriptive statistics were used to analyse questionnaire data. A thematic approach was used to analyse verbatim transcripts of the GP interviews. Results In total, 1249 (25%) GPs responded to the questionnaire survey. From this total, 24 GPs were interviewed for the qualitative study. Features used by GPs to identify PMR were largely in line with current guidance. Diagnosis was found to be challenging, with GPs relying heavily on response to treatment with glucocorticoids. Investigations advised by current British PMR guidance to attempt to rule out other causes for symptoms were not routinely requested. Concerns surrounding ongoing treatment with glucocorticoids were widespread in relation to both potential adverse effects and ongoing monitoring. Conclusion Focused strategies to investigate and therefore exclude non-PMR differential diagnoses are required for patients with new-onset suspected PMR symptoms. Additionally, ongoing active review for alternative causes for symptoms as well as vigilance for treatment complications needs to be implemented.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e783-e793
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number676
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Diagnosis
  • Family
  • General practice
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Physicians
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica
  • Treatment


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