Temporal Arteritis (Giant Cell Arteritis)
Temporal Arteritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the temporal artery... Most people associate inflammation with joint and muscle pain. They are often unaware that blood vessels in our bodies can also become inflamed (vasculitis) and cause serious complications. The symptoms of vasculitis depend on which blood vessels are involved and what organs in the body are affected. Vision can be threatened when inflamed arteries obstruct blood flow to the eyes and the optic nerve effectively cutting off oxygen. Temporal Arteritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the temporal artery which runs over the temple beside the eye. This disease occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the lining of medium-sized arteries that supply the head eyes and optic nerves with oxygen-rich blood.
Although this condition is relatively infrequent it seems to occur five times more often in women than men and usually affects people over 60 years of age. Some of the symptoms include:
- strong headache (occurs in nearly 85% of cases)
- acute tenderness of scalp – it hurts to comb hair wear glasses
- pain in the temple region can be excruciating
- vision loss
- fever and fatigue
- sore neck and jaw pain when chewing
- loss of appetite
The major concern with this condition is vision loss. There is usually a sudden and painless loss of vision in one eye first but as many as 50 percent may notice symptoms in the other eye within days especially if it goes untreated. If treated promptly however permanent vision loss can be avoided – but if left too long the eyes and the optic nerve are deprived of essential oxygen and vision damage may be irreversible.
When your eye care practitioner suspects this condition he/she will most likely refer you to your family physician for some blood tests to determine the level of active inflammation in the body. Often a biopsy of the temporal artery is needed to confirm the diagnosis. For this biopsy a small piece of the temporal artery is removed and looked at under a microscope for signs of inflammatory cells.
If temporal arteritis is determined to be the cause of the symptoms then the most common treatment available is oral steroid medications. Steroids reduce the inflammation and most patients find that they improve in a matter of days. In more severe cases a long-term maintenance dosage of steroids may be considered. Once the symptoms reverse and the blood tests normalize the steroid dosage is slowly tapered. Typical treatment usually lasts at least 3-6 months and sometimes goes on for 1 year or more.