What is temporal arteritis?
Temporal arteritis is a serious disorder that causes chronic inflammation of the large and medium arteries which supply oxygenated blood throughout the body. This inflammatory disease results in an inadequate supply of oxygen and nutrients for many vital organs.
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.
What are the symptoms of temporal arteritis?
Symptoms of temporal arteritis can affect many areas of the body. Symptoms of temporal arteritis can include:
Hip pain, shoulder pain and other joint pain
Jaw pain with chewing
Poor appetite and weight loss
Scalp pain or sensitivity
Throat pain or tongue pain
Throbbing headache, especially on one side of the head or back of the head
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
Drooping of the face
Loss of vision or blindness
Paralysis or inability to move a body part
Garbled or slurred speech or inability to speak
- Sudden change in vision
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.
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:
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.
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
Transient ischemic attack (also known as TIA, temporary stroke-like symptoms that may be a warning sign of an impending stroke)