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Temporal arteritis is a condition in which the temporal arteries, which supply blood to the head and brain, become inflamed or damaged. It is also known as cranial arteritis or giant cell arteritis. Although this condition usually occurs in the temporal arteries, it can occur in almost any medium to large artery in the body.
The journal Arthritis & Rheumatology states that approximately 228,000 people in the United States are affected by temporal arteritis. According to the American College of Rheumatology, people over the age of 50 are more likely than younger people to develop the condition. Women are also more likely than men to have temporal arteritis. It is most prevalent in people of northern European or Scandinavian descent.
Although the exact cause of the condition is unknown, it may be linked to the body’s autoimmune response. Also, excessive doses of antibiotics and certain severe infections have been linked to temporal arteritis. There’s no known prevention. However, once diagnosed, temporal arteritis can be treated to minimize complications.
If you think that you may have temporal arteritis, you should see a doctor as soon as possible. Temporal arteritis can cause very serious complications, but seeking immediate medical attention and treatment can reduce the risk of developing these complications.
The symptoms of temporal arteritis can include:
These symptoms can also occur due to other conditions. You should call your doctor anytime you’re worried about any symptoms you’re experiencing.
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and look at your head to determine whether there’s any tenderness. They’ll pay special attention to the arteries in your head. They may also order a blood test. Several blood tests can be useful in diagnosing temporal arteritis, including the following:
Although these tests can be 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 to make a definitive diagnosis. This 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. CT and MRI scans are often not helpful.
If temporal arteritis isn’t treated, serious, potentially life-threatening complications can occur. They include:
Temporal arteritis cannot be cured. Therefore, the goal of treatment is to minimize tissue damage that can occur due to inadequate blood flow caused by the condition.
If temporal arteritis is suspected, treatment should begin immediately, even if test results haven’t yet confirmed the diagnosis. If this diagnosis is suspected and the results are pending, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids. Corticosteroids can increase your risk of developing certain medical conditions, such as:
Other potential side effects of the medicines include:
Talk with your doctor about ways to minimize these side effects.
Your doctor may also recommend taking aspirin to treat the musculoskeletal symptoms.
Treatment typically lasts for one to two years. While you’re undergoing corticosteroid therapy, it’s important that you have regular checkups with your doctor. They’ll need to monitor your progress, as well as the way that your body is handling medical treatment. Prolonged use of corticosteroids can have detrimental effects on your bones and other metabolic functions.
The following measures are generally recommended as part of treatment:
You’ll still need to see your doctor for checkups once you’ve finished your course of treatment. This is because temporal arteritis can recur.
Your outlook for temporal arteritis will depend on how quickly you’re diagnosed and able to start treatment. Untreated temporal arteritis can cause serious damage to the blood vessels in your body. Call your doctor if you notice new symptoms. This will make it more likely that you’ll be diagnosed with a condition when it’s in the early stages.
Written by: Jaime Herndon and Megan McCrea
Medically reviewed on: Jun 28, 2016: Modern Weng, D.O.
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