What is temporal arteritis?
Temporal arteritis is a disease in which the arteries become swollen, narrowed, and sometimes completely blocked. The disease gets its name because it often affects arteries in the head, especially those in the temples. It can affect any artery in the body. This disease is also called giant cell arteritis.
It is important to diagnose and treat this disease as early as possible because it can cause a stroke or sudden loss of vision.
How does it occur?
The cause of temporal arteritis is not known. It happens most often in people who are 60 to 80 years old. Women are affected more often than men. The disease is more common among people whose ancestors came from Germany, Great Britain, or other northern European countries.
What are the symptoms?
You may feel ill and lose your appetite. Other symptoms may include:
- swelling of the blood vessels on the side of your forehead
- tenderness of the scalp, usually over the temples
- pain in the jaw when you chew, swallow, or talk
- severe headache (or new headaches that you never had before)
- trouble hearing
- muscle aches and stiffness, especially in the morning
- weight loss
- vision problems, including blurred vision, double vision, and blindness.
About half of the people who have temporal arteritis also have polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR). PMR is a disorder that causes severe stiffness and pain in the muscles of your neck, shoulders, lower back, and hips. About 10% to 15% of people with PMR also have temporal arteritis.
How is it diagnosed?
First of all, you and your healthcare provider have to suspect that you might have temporal arteritis. If you have the first 3 symptoms listed above, then you should suspect that you have it.
The most important blood tests are to check for anemia and inflammation. The ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) detects inflammation. ESR measures how fast your red blood cells sink in a test tube. People who have temporal arteritis tend to have a very high ESR.
Your healthcare provider will also probably do a biopsy by taking 1 or 2 samples of tissue from your artery. The artery biopsied most often is your temporal artery, along your hairline above your ear. Usually this is an outpatient surgery in a surgical center. Tests of the tissue can show whether the artery is inflamed and has unusually large cells along its walls. These are signs of temporal arteritis.
How is it treated?
To prevent blindness, treatment must be started as soon as possible.
Steroids, such as prednisone, can relieve symptoms of temporal arteritis quickly and often completely. Many of the symptoms may get better within 24 hours after you take the first dose of steroids. You can and should start treatment right away. You may even start treatment before having the artery biopsy. Generally you must keep taking this medicine for about 2 years before the condition goes away. Some people must take medicine for many years.
How long do the effects last?
With treatment, the disease typically lasts about 2 years. If symptoms come back, you may need more treatment.
How can I help myself?
- Follow your healthcare provider's treatment plan.
- Contact your provider right away if symptoms come back, get worse, or if you develop new symptoms, especially if your vision changes.
- Discuss possible side effects of your medicine with your provider. Tell your provider about any side effects you have.
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