Temporal Arteritis

Temporal Arteritis: What Is It?

When the temporal arteries become damaged or inflamed, it causes temporal arteritis. The arteries supply the blood to the brain and head. Other names include giant cell arteritis and cranial arteritis. While it is usually around the temporal arterities, the condition can actually happen to the majority of the arteries that are medium or large in size around the body.

Those who are 60 years or older are more likely to develop this condition and women are more likely to be affected, according to St. Luke’s Cataract and Laser Institute.

The reason is yet unknown but theories include a link with the autoimmune system. Some infections and excessive use of antibiotics are other factors thought to cause it. Due to not knowing the reason, there is no way of preventing it yet. However, there are treatments to help handle it and avoid as many complications as possible once is it diagnosed.

Patients must seek medical help as soon as they can. There are some extremely serious complications linked to temporal arteritis but they can be limited with treatment and medical attention.

Temporal Arteritis Symptoms

Some of the symptoms include:

  • Visual disturbances, including double, reduced and blurred vision
  • Excessive sweating
  • Permanent and sudden vision loss in one eye
  • Generally feeling ill
  • Weakness and fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Headache usually around the temples
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Weight loss unintentionally
  • Facial pain
  • Bleeding gums
  • Mouth sores
  • Hearing loss
  • Eyelids drooping
  • Stiffness and pain in the joints, especially the shoulder and hip – about 50% of patients will have polymyaligia rheumatica as well as temporal arteritis
  • Tenderness in the temples and scalp
  • Depression
  • Transient jaw pain sometimes occurs but it not always there

This isn’t a complete fool-proof list of the symptoms and they are signs of other conditions. A persistent fever without any other signs or symptoms is common in some patients so it is important to talk to a doctor to make sure the diagnosis is accurate.

Respiratory and nerve pain issues are also experienced by about 40% of patients, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Temporal Arteritis Diagnosis

To determine if there is any tenderness, you will have a physical exam, especially of the head, by your doctor. He will be interested in the arteries around the head and may want some blood tests completed. There are several tests used for this:

  • Hematocrit test, which measures the percentage of red blood cells in the blood
  • Hemoglobin test, which measure the amount of protein that carries the oxygen (the hemoglobin) in the blood
  • Liver function test
  • C-reactive protein test, which measure the amount of protein in the liver and can indicate if there is any inflammation
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test, which measures the speed at which the red blood cells group together inside the tube and is another indication of any inflammation in the body

Blood tests will not offer enough to offer a full diagnosis. Your doctor will usually need to do an artery biopsy on the area he thinks is affected, which is usually an outpatient procedure with local anesthesia. Your doctor may also want a MRI scan and a CT scan.

Temporal Arteritis Treatment

This is not something that has a cure and treatments are to help minimize the amount of damage to the tissue and deal with the symptoms.

Treatment needs to start as soon as the condition is suspected and even when there is not a full diagnosis. This helps to prevent it becoming serious and it is a majorly life-threatening condition. There are many complications if untreated, including blindness, aortic aneurysm (leading to internal bleeding and then death) and stroke.

While waiting for the results, it is likely that your doctor will give you a course of corticosteroids. If you have any musculoskeletal problems, you will usually be recommended to take Aspirin. These treatments usually last between one and two years and you will need to see your doctor regularly during that period to monitor the progress and make sure you are on the right types of treatment. The bones and metabolic functions can be affected detrimentally when corticosteroids are used on a long term basis.

Your doctor will also usually recommend to:

  • Quit smoking
  • Take vitamin D and calcium supplements
  • Do weight-bearing exercises, such as walking
  • Get bone density screenings regularly

After treatment, temporal arteritis can happen again so you will still need to see your doctor regularly.

Temporal Arteritis Possible Complications

The complications can be due to the condition but also due to the treatment. When not treated, complications of temporal arteritis include:

  • Aneurysm development, such as the aortic aneurysm
  • Damage and inflammation of the blood vessels
  • Loss of vision/blindness
  • Weakness in the eye muscles
  • Stroke
  • Death

The corticosteroids have complications linked to them, including the higher risk of developing osteoporosis, muscle weakness, high blood pressure, cataracts and glaucoma. The other side effects including:

  • Unintentional weight gain
  • The skin thinning and bruising easily
  • The immune system’s functions decreasing
  • Blood sugar levels increasing, leading to diabetes

Your doctor will help offer ways to reduce the risk of developing these complications.