Temporal Arteritis

By | April 13, 2015

Arteries carry pure blood from the heart to other parts of the body and the veins carry impure blood from various body parts to the heart for purification. Arteries are nothing but blood vessels ranging from small to large in size that transports oxygenated blood to all parts of the body. Due to some reasons, the soft lining of the arteries are affected and becomes inflamed and swollen. Often it affects the arteries on the temples region.

Temporal arteritis is the inflammation of the arteries of the temple. This condition can cause headache, partial loss of vision (in rare cases blindness) and jaw pain. This problem can be treated by effective corticosteroid drugs. In rare cases it can cause serious complications. Other names for temporal arteritis are giant cell arteritis and cranial arteritis.

Symptoms :

Some of the common signs of temporal arteritis are headache, tenderness on the head, and inflammation of the temples region. Often one side of the temple is only affected and not on both the sides. It would cause persistent pain on the temple area and even on the head. The above symptoms are not the same for all people affected with temporal arteritis. For some people it can cause flu like symptoms with fever, fatigue and headache. The muscles of the temple would become rigid and there can be pain on the shoulder and hip region also.

For some people temporal arteritis can cause double vision or blurred vision or even blindness. The scalp becomes very tender and it becomes difficult for the person to comb the hair as before due to inflammation. In many cases there would be jaw pain making it difficult to open/close the mouth. Polymyalgia rheumatica is another disorder that is present in more than 50% of the people with temporal arteritis. It can cause rigidity in the shoulder, neck and hips. If you have any problems in vision, you should seek immediate medical attention failing which it can cause permanent loss of vision.

Causes :

Temporal arteritis is caused due to inflammation of the arteries. Often the arteries in the head region located in front of the ears become swollen due to which normal blood supply is affected. Infection can be the cause of such inflammation but exact reason for sudden swelling is not known. For some people it can cause swelling on some portion of the artery without affecting the blood flow.

Who are at risk?

Elderly people (above 65 or 70 years), more particularly elderly women are prone to develop temporal arteritis. This problem is prevalent in specific regions like Scandinavian of Northern Europe.

Complications :

One of the worst complications of temporal arteritis is blindness. If the blood supply to the eyes is reduced considerably it can cause partial loss of vision, double vision and in some cases blindness. In extreme cases it can lead to aneurysm in which the inflammation of the blood vessel can become so severe that the artery may burst open causing internal bleeding. Often this happens in the aorta (big blood vessel that runs in your heart). This can lead to life threatening problems if not attended immediately. Blood clots are likely to develop in the inflamed artery affecting the normal blood supply to the brain leading to stroke in rare cases.

Diagnosis :

For many cases the symptoms of temporal arteritis gets unnoticed. Headache, jaw pain and other symptoms are common for many other illnesses. Hence the doctor will have to diagnose temporal arteritis by collecting the medical history, by conducting blood test which would give the result of erythrocyte sed rate and also c reactive protein test.

For some people biopsy is done by removing a small tissue from the affected (inflamed) part of the body. If the doctor is unclear about the disease he would order for imaging tests like CT, MRI scan or Doppler ultrasound and sometimes PET (positron emission tomography) test.

Treatment :

For treating temporal arteritis doctors would prescribe corticosteroid drugs like prednisone. Medications are to be given once the diagnosis is made without even waiting for the results. The course of medication is determined by the intensity of the disorder and how severely it has affected the concerned person. For some people the drugs have to be continued for years together.

But the dosage of corticosteroid will be gradually reduced after few months. Subsequently the doctor would ask you to repeat blood test to check the levels of sed rate and repeat CRP test also. Corticosteroids are effective anti-inflammatory drugs to give relief from pain. However it can cause side effects like osteoporosis, vision problems (cataracts and glaucoma and muscular weakness. In addition it can cause intense weight gain, high blood sugar and thinning of skin. Hence you need to check with your doctor regularly to manage the possible side effects once you are put on corticosteroid drugs. In some cases the doctor would give aspirin (in low doses) to prevent stroke or blindness.

Lifestyle Changes :

You need to quit smoking and drinking. Follow the instructions of your doctor in taking healthy diet including calcium supplements. You can prevent bone density issues by eating healthy well balanced diet. Do exercise regularly to prevent weight gain and diabetes.

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