Temporal Arteritis (aka Giant Cell Arteritis)
Temporal arteritis is a condition in which the arteries that supply blood to the head and brain become inflamed or damaged. Although this condition usually occurs in the temporal arteries, it can occur in almost any medium to large artery in the body.
Risk Factors of Temporal Arteritis
Some risk factors include:
- being over the age of 50
- being of Northern European or Scandinavian descent
- being a woman (women are more likely to get temporal arteritis than men)
- excessive doses of antibiotics
- certain severe infections have also been linked to temporal arteritis
Causes of Temporal Arteritis
Although the exact cause of the condition is unknown, doctors believe it may be linked to the body’s autoimmune response. There’s no known prevention. However, once diagnosed, temporal arteritis can be treated to minimize your symptoms and associated complications.
Symptoms of Temporal Arteritis
Symptoms of Temporal Arteritis can include:
- double vision
- sudden, permanent loss of vision in one eye
- a throbbing headache that’s usually in the temples
- loss of appetite
- jaw pain, which sometimes can occur with chewing
- unintentional weight loss
- pain and/or stiffness in the shoulder or hip
- tenderness in the scalp and temple areas
Diagnosis of Temporal Arteritis
Your doctor will perform a physical exam to determine whether there’s any tenderness, paying special attention to the arteries in your head.
In addition, there are several types of blood tests that can be useful in diagnosing temporal arteritis.
These tests include:
A Hemoglobin Test
A test that measures the amount of hemoglobin, or oxygen-carrying protein, in your blood.
A Hematocrit Test
A test that measures the percentage of your blood that is made up of red blood cells.
A Liver Function Test
A test used to determine how well the liver is working.
An Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR) Test
A test that measures how quickly your red blood cells collect at the bottom of a test tube over one hour. A high ESR result may indicate inflammation in your body.
A C-Reactive Protein Test
A test that measures the level of a protein made by your liver that’s released into your bloodstream after tissue injury. A high result can mean that there’s inflammation in your body.
Although these tests can be remarkably helpful, blood tests alone aren’t enough for a diagnosis. Usually, your doctor will perform a biopsy of the artery that they suspect is affected, which can be done as an outpatient procedure using local anesthesia. An ultrasound may provide an additional clue about whether or not you have temporal arteritis, but CT and MRI scans are often not helpful.
Treatment of Temporal Arteritis
Temporal arteritis cannot be cured; therefore, the goal of treatment is to minimize tissue damage caused by the condition.
Treatment can include:
- aspirin (to treat musculoskeletal symptoms)
- corticosteroid therapy/oral corticosteroids
- Iron and Vitamin supplements (to manage anemia)
- Calcium and Vitamin D supplements
- quitting smoking
- weight-bearing exercise (i.e. walking)
- regular bone density screenings
- occasional blood sugar checks
Treatment typically lasts for one to two years. It’s important that you have regular checkups with your doctor during corticosteroid therapy, as well as after you’ve finished treatment. They’ll need to monitor how your body is reacting to the treatment, measure your progress afterwards, and make sure you don’t develop the condition again, as it can be reoccurring. In addition, prolonged use of corticosteroids can have detrimental effects on your bones and other metabolic functions.
Complications of Temporal Arteritis
If temporal arteritis isn’t treated, serious, potentially life-threatening complications can occur.
These complications can include:
- inflammation and damage to other blood vessels
- aneurysms (including aortic aneurysms)
- vision loss
- eye muscle weakness
- complete blindness
- massive internal bleeding
Side effects of medication include:
- high blood pressure
- muscle weakness
- weight gain
- increased blood sugar levels
- thinning skin
- increased bruising
- decreased immune system function
- difficulty sleeping at night and/or restlessness
Outlook of Temporal Arteritis
Your outlook for temporal arteritis will depend on when you’re diagnosed and how quickly you’re able to start treatment. When left untreated, temporal arteritis can cause serious damage to the blood vessels in your body, along with other life-threatening side effects.
Call your doctor immediately if you notice new symptoms. This will increase your likelihood of an early diagnosis, and subsequently decrease the risk of developing serious complications.