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What Is Giant Cell Arteritis?

Giant cell arteritis, or temporal arteritis, is an inflammatory condition that affects the large blood vessels of the scalp, neck and arms. As these vessels become narrowed or blocked by inflammation, blood flow can be disrupted, which can potentially lead to a number of serious ischemic events, such as vision loss, or stroke.

While the exact cause of giant cell arteritis is unknown, researchers believe it may be related to an inappropriate immune system response that targets the blood vessels, including the temporal arteries.

What Are the Symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis?

In its early stages, giant cell arteritis often produces flu-like symptoms, such as fever, loss of appetite and general fatigue. As the condition progresses, inflamed temporal arteries can cause:

  • Tenderness of the scalp and temples
  • Headache
  • Double vision
  • Temporary vision loss (as if a curtain were pulled partly over one eye)
  • Dizziness
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Jaw pain when talking or eating
  • A persistent sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Occasional chest pains

If giant cell arteritis is suspected, a physician may order a temporal artery biopsy. This procedure involves the removal of a small portion of the temporal artery, which is situated close to the skin just in front of the ears and continues up into the scalp. The tissue sample is then sent to a lab for examination under a microscope. A diagnosis of giant cell arteritis may be confirmed if inflammatory and abnormal cells are found in the temporal artery walls.

How Is Giant Cell Arteritis Treated?

The symptoms of giant cell arteritis usually resolve relatively quickly with high-dose corticosteroid therapy, but it may be necessary to continue treatment for six to twelve months in order to keep the inflammation down and reduce the small but confirmed risk of blindness. Additional immunosuppressant medications are used by rheumatologist to reduce the inflammation, and shorten the duration of the corticosteroid regimen. In addition to closely following the prescribed medication regimen, it is important for a patient to get proper nutrition and regular physical activity, all of which can help minimize the side effects of corticosteroids.

Giant cell arteritis is a complex condition that requires specialized expertise to diagnose and treat. In Houston, Texas, you can consult with an experienced rheumatologist at Advanced Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine. Contact us to schedule an appointment today.