What is temporal arteritis?
Temporal arteritis, also known as giant cell arteritis, is an inflammation of the arteries around the scalp and neck region. It is often associated with a condition called polymyalgia rheumatica, a feeling of aching or stiffness affecting the neck, arms, and back.
While temporal arteritis isn’t a common disorder, your risk of having it increases after age 50, and women have higher risk than men. Doctors believe temporal arteritis is a kind of autoimmune disease, in which the body’s own immune system targets its own tissues, but more research is needed.
This is a potentially serious condition with many complications if left untreated. Call 911 if at any time you begin experiencing:
- Drooping face
- Slurred speech
Some of these conditions may be permanent and need early intervention.
Signs and symptoms of temporal arteritis
Temporal arteritis is a rare but serious condition. Early diagnosis and treatment makes a large difference in its outcome, especially in regards to the eye. Doctors will work to slow or stop the pace of arterial inflammation before it can damage the optic nerve and potentially cause blindness.
Fortunately, there are many early warning signs to aid detection. These are a few:
Jaw claudication is pain or fatigue while chewing, often confused with temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder. The difference is that claudication’s pain happens a short interval after chewing, whereas TMJ’s pain kicks in during the chewing itself. The difference is small but incredibly important, for jaw claudication is now recognized as the most important early indicator of temporal arteritis.
Many report feeling a dull, throbbing sensation around the head, especially at the temples or back of the head. These headaches are often joined with other aches and pains in the facial muscles and upper body.
Inflammation of the temporal artery may negatively impact other parts of the head. Pain around the temple and forehead area is commonly reported with this condition.
Vision problems often result from temporal arteritis. In addition to double vision, your vision could suddenly become blurry under normal light conditions or you could have trouble seeing at night.
This is one of the most serious symptoms of temporal arteritis. The inflammation of the arteries near the eye often obstructs the eye’s blood supply. This is a medical emergency and needs immediate intervention. If the eyes are deprived of blood for too long, permanent injury and even blindness can occur.
Other symptoms of temporal arteritis resemble influenza in some ways. These can include:
Causes of temporal arteritis
The cause of temporal arteritis is the body’s own immune system. Unfortunately, the reason why the immune system targets and inflames the temporal arteries in this way is still unknown. Doctors only know that aging seems to play a role.
When to see a doctor for temporal arteritis
The right time to see a doctor for temporal arteritis is as early as possible. If you notice a new and especially persistent headache that doesn’t respond to usual medication, especially around the temporal muscles, schedule an appointment with your doctor right away.
Be on the lookout also for the other warning signs associated with temporal arteritis — jaw claudication in particular.
Diagnosing temporal arteritis
Your doctor will perform physical examinations to check for temporal arteritis focus on the head and scalp area. They may assess whether skin around the temples is sensitive to the touch. A telltale sign of temporal arteritis is a thick artery on one or both of the temples.
Several tests can also be done to diagnose temporal arteritis, such as:
- Liver function tests
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) tests
- Temporal artery biopsy
- Color Doppler Ultrasound of the temporal artery
Treatments for temporal arteritis
Temporal arteritis is most often treated using a corticosteroid called prednisone. This medication targets and alleviates inflammation that may build up around the temples which, if left untreated, could affect and damage the eyes. High doses of prednisone are used, and people with temporal arteritis can expect treatment to last for at least a year.
While people on prednisone do experience a rapid improvement of their inflammatory symptoms (as quickly as 1 to 3 days most times), the medication has a number of side effects. These include weight gain, cataracts, high blood pressure, and others.
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