Giant Cell Arteritis, also called Temporal or Cranial Arteritis, is an autoimmune disease that leads to the inflammation of the arteries. The swelling is caused by the sufferers own immune system, that seems to attack the lining of the pathways which lead blood filled with oxygen, from the heart, to the entire body. The blood vessels commonly affected by GCA are the temporal ones and this is why this condition is popularly called temporal arteritis. It’s a disease that requires fast diagnose and prompt treatment in order to avoid complications, like blindness. So, read on and be prepared!
There is no sure, researched cause that is known to trigger the artery inflammation. However, it’s confirmed that aging and genetic background can be held responsible for giant cell arteritis. Depending on each country, the disease affects between 6 to 20 adults out of 100,000. It’s a rare condition, that is most prone in white Caucasian people from the Western countries. Women are three times more likely to suffer from temporal arteritis. The age most likely for developing it is 70.
GCA is also linked with polymyalgia rheumatica. It’s in fact considered a particular case of PMR with one third of the people diagnosed with PMR are also found of suffering from cranial asteritis.
Temporal Arteritis Symptoms
As mentioned above the most common artery affected by GCA is the temporal one. This is why the main symptom is headaches. They occur suddenly and affect the temporal area. However, they can manifest in other places of the head too. Pain is sharp, stiff and can become severe.
Giant Cell Arteritis can affect one, or both temporal arteries. Patches of inflammation can alternate along with normal ones. Symptoms can very quite significantly, depending on the site and the length of the affected artery.
A. Frequent Symptoms:
– Fever: caused by the over-reacting immune system
– Night Sweats: could be caused by another symptom, scalp tenderness which leads to a painful experience if the head is touching the pillow in the temporal region
– Jaw Pain: during chewing, temporal arteries are affected by the motion.
B. Rare Symptoms:
– Vision Problems: temporal arteritis can cause double vision and even a sudden, partial loss of sight. Blindness is one of GCA’s common results if the disease is not properly treated.
– Weight Loss: unexplained weight loss can also occur.
– Taste Loss: sufferers can have a strange tongue sensation and experience loss of taste.
C. Polymyalgia Symptoms
Because GCA is considered a branch of polymyalgia rheumatica, PMR symptoms can also be experienced:
– Neck Pain: a painful and stiff neck, aching shoulders and hips are common for PMR.
– Low Energy: an overall state of lethargy and loss of lust.
– Appetite Loss: no mood for eating.
Giant Cell Arteritis Treatment
There is no particular test for the diagnosis of GCA. Your doctor has to perform a series of checks involving blood tests, biopsy of the temporal artery, eye examinations and even thyroid function checks. After gathering results and studying the patients background a final diagnosis can be applied.
Treatment consists in oral intake of corticosteroids. Prednisone is usually prescribed, in high dosages, starting with 60 mg per day. Dosage is gradually reduced as condition is brought under control.
In some cases in order to prevent blindness, your doctor could start medication even before the test results are out and the diagnosis confirmed.
If visual problems are already part of your temporal arteritis symptoms, intravenous steroids at 250 mg per day will be offered to the patient in order to avoid vision loss.
Sufferers can also ingest anti-inflammatory drugs like Ibuprofen to relieve temporal arteritis symptoms, however these over the counter drugs, won’t cure the diseases or lower the risk factors.
Corticosteroid treatment is mandatory and has to be applied for at least 2 years. However, many sufferers will need to follow it for up to 5 years. This is why steroid treatment sife-effects need also the be considered. Prolonged steroid intake can lead to: osteoporosis, high blood pressure, increased blood sugar, weakened immune system or weight gain. This is why regular doctor visits and treatment adjustments are needed.