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.
Symptoms of temporal arteritis
The symptoms of temporal arteritis can include:
- double vision
- sudden, permanent loss of vision in one eye
- a throbbing headache that’s usually in the
- loss of appetite
- jaw pain, which sometimes can occur with chewing
- unintentional weight loss
- shoulder pain, hip pain, and stiffness
- tenderness in the scalp and temple areas
These symptoms can also occur due to other
conditions. You should call your doctor anytime you’re worried about any
symptoms you’re experiencing.
Diagnosis of temporal arteritis
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
- A hemoglobin test measures the amount of
hemoglobin, or oxygen-carrying protein, in your blood.
- A hematocrit test measures the percentage of
your blood that is made up of red blood cells.
- A liver function test can be done to determine
how well the liver is working.
- An erythrocyte sedimentation
rate (ESR) test measures how quickly your red blood cells collect at
the bottom of a test tube over one hour. A high ESR result means that there’s
inflammation in your body.
- A C-reactive
protein test measures the level of a protein, made by your liver,
that’s released into your bloodstream after tissue injury. A high result
indicates that there’s inflammation in your body.
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.
Potential complications of temporal arteritis
If temporal arteritis isn’t treated, serious,
potentially life-threatening complications can occur. They include:
- inflammation and damage to other blood vessels
in the body
- development of aneurysms, including aortic
- vision loss
- eye muscle weakness
An aortic aneurysm can lead to massive internal
bleeding. Death can also occur if temporal arteritis isn’t treated. Talk with
your doctor about ways to minimize any complications from the condition.
Treatment of temporal arteritis
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:
- high blood pressure
- muscle weakness
Other potential side effects of the medicines
- weight gain
- increased blood sugar levels
- thinning skin
- increased bruising
- decreased immune system function
- difficulty sleeping at night and restlessness
Talk with your doctor about ways to minimize these
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
The following measures are generally recommended
as part of treatment:
- taking a calcium and vitamin D supplement
- quitting smoking
- doing weight-bearing exercise, like walking
- getting regular bone density screenings
- getting occasional blood sugar checks
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.
What is the outlook for people with temporal arteritis?
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.