Temporal Arteritis

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Introduction

What is temporal arteritis?

Temporal arteritis is a serious disorder that causes chronic inflammation of the large and medium arteries of the head, which supply oxygenated blood to portions of the head and brain. This inflammatory disease results in an inadequate supply of oxygen and nutrients in the brain and head areas.

Temporal arteritis is believed to be an autoimmune disorder in which the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks normal healthy cells and tissues, causing inflammation. Temporal arteritis often affects the temporal arteries, which run over the temple areas next to the eye, but can also affect other arteries throughout the body. Temporal arteritis can cause a wide variety of symptoms that may affect the eyes, head, face and body in general.

Temporal arteritis is a relatively uncommon disorder, but it is the most frequent cause of vasculitis (an inflammation of the blood vessels). Temporal arteritis is also called giant cell arteritis and cranial arteritis. Temporal arteritis is more common in people older than age 50, and it affects women more often than men.

Temporal arteritis is treatable, but left untreated it can lead to serious complications including blindness and stroke. Seek prompt medical care if you have symptoms of temporal arteritis, such as headache, jaw pain, or changes in vision.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of temporal arteritis?

Symptoms of temporal arteritis can affect many areas of the body. Symptoms of temporal arteritis can include:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

Temporal arteritis can lead to serious complications, such as stroke or blindness. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms:

  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness

  • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions

  • Drooping of the face

  • Loss of vision or blindness

  • Numbness

  • Paralysis or inability to move a body part

  • Garbled or slurred speech or inability to speak

  • Sudden change in vision
Causes

What causes temporal arteritis?

Temporal arteritis is believed to be an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks normal cells of the large and medium arteries in the head. In temporal arteritis, inflammation caused by this attack affects the flow of blood through the arteries and the ability to adequately supply oxygen and nutrients to the brain and head areas. Temporal arteritis can also affect other arteries throughout the body.

The cause of temporal arteritis is not known. However, the aging process probably plays a role in developing temporal arteritis, as most people with the disorder are older than age 50.

What are the risk factors for temporal arteritis?

A number of factors increase the risk of developing temporal arteritis. Not all people who are at risk for temporal arteritis will develop the condition. Risk factors include:

  • Advanced age

  • Family history of temporal arteritis

  • Female gender

  • Polymyalgia rheumatica (inflammatory disorder causing pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulder and hip areas)
Treatments

How is temporal arteritis treated?

Temporal arteritis is very treatable and even curable in many cases. Early diagnosis and treatment can reduce and eliminate symptoms and is critical in preventing serious complications, such as stroke and blindness. Long-term treatment may be necessary.

Treatment of temporal arteritis generally includes high doses of a corticosteroid medication called prednisone, which suppresses the overactive immune system and inflammation of the arteries. Prednisone can have side effects, including increased susceptibility to infection. Regular medical care is required to monitor for side effects, adjust dosages as needed, evaluate the course of the disorder, and look for early signs of possible complications.

What are the possible complications of temporal arteritis?

Complications of temporal arteritis can be serious, even life-threatening. You can help minimize your risk of serious complications by following the treatment plan you and your health care professional design specifically for you. Complications include:

  • Blindness, which can be permanent

  • Stroke

  • Transient ischemic attack (also known as TIA, temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2019 Jan 5
  1. Giant Cell Arteritis. American College of Rheumatology. https://www.rheumatology.org/Practice/Clinical/Patients/Diseases_And_Conditions/Giant_Cell_Arteritis....
  2. Temporal Arteritis. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000448.htm.
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