What is temporal arteritis?

Temporal arteritis is a form of vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels). In temporal arteritis, also known as giant cell arteritis or Horton's arteritis, the temporal arteries (the blood vessels near the temples), which supply blood from the heart to the scalp, are inflamed (swollen) and constricted (narrowed). The vasculitis that causes temporal arteritis can involve other blood vessels, such as the posterior ciliary arteries (leading to blindness), or large blood vessels like the aorta and its branches, which can also lead to serious health problems.

If not diagnosed and treated quickly, temporal arteritis can cause:

  • Damage to eyesight, including sudden blindness in one or both eyes.
  • Damage to blood vessels, such as an aneurysm (a ballooning blood vessel that may burst).
  • Other disorders, including stroke or transient ischemic attacks (“mini-strokes”).

How common is temporal arteritis?

Temporal arteritis is one of the most common vascular disorders, but is a relatively rare condition, affecting about 5 out of 10,000 people. It usually occurs in people who are over 50 years old, and affects women more often than men.

What are the symptoms of temporal arteritis?

The most common symptom of temporal arteritis is a throbbing, continuous headache on one or both sides of the forehead. Other symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Jaw pain that may become worse after chewing
  • Tenderness at the scalp or temples
  • Vision problems, such as double vision, blurry vision, or transient (brief) vision loss; if this is not treated, it could be followed by permanent, irreversible vision loss
  • Muscle aches in the upper arms or shoulders, hips, upper thighs, lower back, and buttocks
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss

Often, temporal arteritis can be associated with an entity called polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), which is an inflammatory condition affecting the shoulders, hip girdle and neck. This leads to significant stiffness and pain. PMR is far more common than temporal arteritis, but up to 30 percent of temporal arteritis patients have PMR.

What causes temporal arteritis?

The causes of temporal arteritis are poorly understood. There is no well-established trigger or risk factors.

One cause may be a faulty immune response; i.e., the body's immune system may “attack” the body. Temporal arteritis often occurs in people who have polymyalgia rheumatica.

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