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Polymyalgia Rheumatica Across Cultures : Exploring Ethnic and Environmental Variances in PMR Symptoms

Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) is a well-documented inflammatory condition known for causing muscle pain and stiffness, primarily around the shoulders and hips. But, like many medical conditions, its expression isn’t a one-size-fits-all scenario. Numerous conditions manifest differently across various cultures and ethnic backgrounds. This article aims to illuminate how PMR presents in different populations, considering both cultural and genetic factors.


Medical literature is replete with instances where diseases manifest differently based on ethnicity or cultural contexts. For instance, lactose intolerance is more prevalent in some populations than in others. Similarly, PMR, an ailment commonly associated with aging, may have distinct patterns based on one’s genetic makeup or cultural milieu.

Prevalence Rates of Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) in Different Global Populations

Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) is most frequently diagnosed in populations of northern European descent, particularly in Scandinavian countries. This prevalence might be attributed to genetic factors or potentially to shared environmental or lifestyle elements in these regions.

In contrast, Asian countries report fewer instances of PMR. Japan, for instance, has shown significantly lower incidence rates compared to Europe. Some studies posit that genetic makeup, coupled with dietary habits typical in Asian cultures—which often emphasize anti-inflammatory foods like fish and green vegetables—may play a protective role.

Africa, on the other hand, presents a complex picture. Preliminary data suggests that PMR might be underdiagnosed or misdiagnosed due to limited awareness or access to rheumatological care in certain regions. This gap underscores the need for enhanced medical outreach and education. 

Similarly, among indigenous communities spanning from the Native American populations in North America to the Aboriginal people of Australia, there is a dearth of data. Some initial reports hint at a lower prevalence, but without comprehensive studies, it’s challenging to draw firm conclusions. It’s possible that genetic factors offer protection, or perhaps cultural or lifestyle factors play a role. Additionally, in these communities, traditional understandings and interpretations of health and disease could influence the recognition and reporting of PMR-like symptoms.

Given these disparities and knowledge gaps, global collaboration in research is paramount. Comprehensive epidemiological studies that take into account genetic, environmental, and cultural factors will be pivotal in mapping the true global footprint of PMR. 

Differences in Symptom Severity or Onset of Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) in Various Ethnicities

The presentation of PMR, both in terms of symptom onset and severity, is an area of study that continues to intrigue researchers. While we know that PMR primarily affects older adults, the age at which it presents and its clinical manifestations can vary among ethnic groups.

For instance, preliminary studies focused on Asian populations, particularly from regions like Japan and South Korea, suggest a slightly earlier age of PMR onset. This deviation could be related to genetic predispositions or even environmental factors unique to these regions. Interestingly, despite this earlier onset, some Asian cohorts have reported a milder symptomatology compared to Western populations, indicating potential differences in disease progression or even protective factors inherent to these populations.

Contrastingly, in populations of African descent, there’s a narrative, albeit based on limited data, that suggests a potential delay in diagnosis. This could be attributed to differences in symptom presentation, reduced medical awareness of PMR in these communities, or even the coexistence of other musculoskeletal disorders that might mask PMR’s typical symptoms.

Moreover, when discussing inflammatory markers—like the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP)—disparities have been noted. Certain ethnicities might display heightened or reduced levels of these markers despite having comparable clinical symptoms. This disparity hints at possible variations in the biological mechanisms of PMR across different genetic backgrounds.

Beyond genetics, environmental factors, including diet, pollution, and even viral exposures, could contribute to these variations. For instance, a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, commonly found in certain Asian diets, might offer some level of protection against severe inflammation, potentially altering the disease’s trajectory.

In light of these findings, it becomes imperative for medical practitioners to adopt a more personalized approach to diagnosing and treating PMR, considering the patient’s ethnic background and potential unique disease characteristics.

Cultural Beliefs and Practices Influencing the Perception and Management of Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR)

The interplay between culture and health perceptions cannot be understated. When it comes to conditions like PMR, cultural backgrounds and associated beliefs significantly shape individuals’ understanding, recognition, and management of their symptoms.

Natural Aging or a Medical Condition?

In many cultures, particularly in rural or traditional communities, symptoms like joint stiffness and muscle pain are often dismissed as inevitable signs of aging rather than manifestations of a medical condition. This perception can delay timely diagnosis and treatment, allowing the disease to progress further. For example, in certain East Asian communities, elders might consider musculoskeletal pain as a part of the natural wear and tear of life, a phenomenon to be endured rather than treated.

Pain Tolerance and Stoicism

Some cultures place a high value on stoicism and enduring pain without complaint. This cultural emphasis on resilience can, at times, deter individuals from seeking help or communicating the severity of their symptoms. In Mediterranean or Middle Eastern cultures, for instance, there might be an expectation to bear ailments with grace and fortitude, seeing it as a sign of strength and character. 

Traditional Remedies and Alternative Approaches

The role of traditional medicine in managing PMR cannot be overlooked. Many cultures have age-old remedies for pain and inflammation. From the turmeric-based concoctions in South Asia, believed to have anti-inflammatory properties, to the use of acupuncture in Chinese medicine, these alternative therapies often serve as the first line of defense against symptoms of PMR. While some of these traditional methods may offer symptomatic relief, it’s crucial to ensure they complement and don’t replace standard medical treatments. 

Role of Spiritual and Community Support

In many cultures, especially those with a deep-rooted sense of community, spiritual beliefs and rituals play a therapeutic role in managing health conditions. Prayer, meditation, or communal gatherings can offer emotional support, which indirectly aids in coping with PMR’s symptoms. For instance, in several African or Latin American communities, religious and community gatherings might serve as a source of comfort and resilience against chronic pain. 

Influence on Medical Adherence

Cultural beliefs can also influence how patients adhere to prescribed treatments. An individual might prioritize a traditional healer’s advice over that of a rheumatologist due to deep-seated cultural trust. Therefore, medical practitioners need to be culturally sensitive, possibly integrating beneficial traditional practices with modern medical treatments, ensuring the best outcomes for patients across diverse cultural backgrounds.

Environmental Factors Potentially Influencing Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) in Different Regions

The environment in which we live, characterized by our daily habits, exposures, and surrounding conditions, can significantly influence health outcomes, including those related to Polymyalgia Rheumatica. Let’s explore some environmental factors and their potential impacts on PMR. 

Dietary Habits and Local Cuisines

Diet plays a crucial role in inflammation modulation. Regions that emphasize diets rich in omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, and other anti-inflammatory compounds might experience a different PMR prevalence or severity. For example: 

  1. Mediterranean regions, where the diet is rich in olive oil, fish, fruits, and vegetables, might have populations that experience a milder PMR course.
  2. In contrast, areas with diets high in saturated fats, refined sugars, and processed foods could potentially have a higher PMR incidence due to dietary-induced inflammation.

Air Quality and Pollution

Prolonged exposure to pollutants can lead to chronic inflammation, potentially exacerbating autoimmune and inflammatory conditions like PMR:

  • Urbanized areas with high levels of air pollution, such as certain metropolitan cities in Asia or industrially active zones, might have residents who are more prone to severe PMR symptoms.
  • On the other hand, regions with cleaner air, like many rural areas or countries with stringent pollution control, might witness lesser PMR severity. 

Latitude, Sunlight, and Vitamin D

Vitamin D, synthesized with the help of sunlight, plays a role in immune function. There’s evidence to suggest that vitamin D deficiency could exacerbate autoimmune diseases:

  • Regions with lesser sunlight, especially during winter months, like Scandinavian countries or Canada, might have populations more at risk of vitamin D deficiency, which could influence PMR presentation.
  • Conversely, sunnier regions closer to the equator might have populations with better vitamin D levels, potentially offering some protective effect against severe PMR symptoms.

Exposure to Pathogens

Certain infections or exposure to specific pathogens have been hypothesized to trigger autoimmune responses. The prevalence of such pathogens in various regions could influence PMR onset: 

  • Regions endemic to certain viral or bacterial infections might see a unique PMR presentation or onset pattern. The relationship between infections and PMR, though not conclusively proven, remains an area of ongoing research.

Stress and Lifestyle Factors

Chronic stress, whether due to socio-economic factors, work culture, or even climatic conditions, can influence inflammation and might play a role in conditions like PMR:

  • Populations subjected to chronic stressors, be it due to political instability, economic hardships, or other factors, might experience exacerbated PMR symptoms.
  • On the flip side, cultures that emphasize relaxation, community bonding, and holistic well-being might have an advantage in managing and mitigating PMR symptoms.

Insights from Traditional Medicines in Managing Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) Symptoms

Across the world, traditional medicinal practices offer remedies for inflammation and pain, symptoms central to PMR. For instance, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) employs specific herbs and acupuncture to manage inflammatory conditions. Similarly, Ayurveda, rooted in the Indian subcontinent, prescribes dietary changes, herbal concoctions, and therapeutic massages. While these methods might not replace conventional treatments, they could provide supplementary relief and insights into alternative Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR) management approaches.


Polymyalgia Rheumatica’s relationship with ethnicity and culture is a nuanced one, shaped by genetics, environment, and societal beliefs. A comprehensive understanding of these factors is pivotal in formulating better diagnostic tools, treatment plans, and patient education methods. As the global community becomes increasingly interconnected, a holistic understanding of PMR across various ethnic and cultural backgrounds is not just beneficial—it’s imperative.


  1. González-Gay MA, Vázquez-Rodríguez TR, López-Díaz MJ, et al. Epidemiology of giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica. Arthritis Rheum. 2009; 61(10):1454-1461.
  2. Doran MF, Crowson CS, O’Fallon WM, Hunder GG, Gabriel SE. The epidemiology of polymyalgia rheumatica in Olmsted County, Minnesota, 1970-1991. Arthritis Rheum. 1995; 38(3):369-373.
  3. Salvarani C, Gabriel SE, O’Fallon WM, Hunder GG. The incidence of giant cell arteritis in Olmsted County, Minnesota: apparent fluctuations in a cyclic pattern. Ann Intern Med. 1995; 123(3):192-194.

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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 30, 2023

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