Sometimes referred to as temporal arteritis, giant cell arteritis is a condition marked by an inflamed arterial lining. It causes symptoms such as vision problems, jaw pain, tenderness of the scalp and headaches. It is important to treat this disease because it may result in blindness when left untreated.
To alleviate the symptoms, timely treatment using corticosteroid drugs is crucial as it may avert vision loss. Although you will start to feel better after beginning treatment, relapse is still a possibility.
Symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis
Severe pain and tenderness of the head are the two most common giant cell arteritis symptoms. Usually felt in both temples, the pain may temporarily subside, come and go, or worsen progressively. Other notable symptoms include sudden and permanent vision loss in a single eye, double vision, unplanned and undesirable weight loss, fatigue, fever, jaw pain and tenderness of the scalp.
Polymyalgia rheumatica is a disorder related to giant cell arteritis which has common symptoms like stiffness and pain in the hips, shoulders or neck. Approximately 50 percent of giant cell arteritis patients develop polymyalgia rheumatica.
It is best to consult a physician right away when you experience persistent headache and any of these symptoms. Once you are diagnosed with the condition, avert the loss of vision by beginning treatment as early as possible.
Causes of Giant Cell Arteritis
The swelling and inflammation of the arterial linings are the cause behind giant cell arteritis. Blood vessels are narrowed when there is swelling and the amount of blood, important nutrients and oxygen that go to the tissues of your body are reduced.
Giant cell arteritis does not only affect the temples’ arteries. It also affects other arteries that are medium-sized or large. The pain is felt in front of the ears and up to the scalp.
The cause of the arterial inflammation is still not known but some researchers think that the immune system is involved by conducting an unusual attack on the walls of the artery. In addition, some environmental factors and genes may increase an individual’s susceptibility to giant cell arteritis.
Risk Factors of Developing Giant Cell Arteritis
The risk of an individual to develop this kind of condition is influenced by a number of factors. Family history is one because giant cell arteritis runs in some families. People with polymyalgia rheumatica have higher risk of developing the condition.
Geography and Race are risk factors as well as the condition is more common in white individuals of Scandinavian descent and those in Northern Europe. Sex is also a factor because women are twice as likely than men to have giant cell arteritis.
Age is the last and most important factors. Based on research, only adults are affected by giant cell arteritis. Individuals who are under 50 years old rarely have this kind of condition. Symptoms and signs are usually seen in people aged 70 to 80 years old.
Complications of Giant Cell Arteritis
The most common complication is blindness. The reduced flow of blood to the eyes can lead to a painless and sudden loss of vision in one or two eyes. More often than not, the vision loss is permanent.
Aortic aneurysm is another complication, which may cause a fatal internal bleeding. Aneurysm usually affects the major artery which runs up your abdomen and chest. Yearly imaging tests such as chest x-rays, CT scan and ultrasound are helpful in monitoring the patients aorta because this type of complication can take place even after years of the condition’s diagnosis.
It is uncommon for a giant cell arteritis patient to develop stroke but it is still considered a potential complication.
Diagnosis of Giant Cell Arteritis
When diagnosing giant cell arteritis, the doctor will attempt other potential causes of the symptoms you are experiencing. Early signs are similar to other common diseases so its diagnosis is somehow difficult. The doctor will also look at your medical history and inquire about the symptoms. If the temporal arteries look hard, have a decreased pulse and are tender, the doctor can already identify your condition.
Giant cell arteritis patients need to undergo a number of different tests so that the doctors can effectively plot the course of treatment. When there is an inflammation, the C-reactive protein can measure a key substance produced by the liver. The erythrocyte sedimentation rate will also be used to determine any kind of inflammation.
Imaging tests are also important especially for monitoring treatment response. The most common used for giant cell arteritis are positron emission tomography, magnetic resonance angiography and Doppler ultrasound. Right now, biopsy is considered as the best method to diagnose the condition.
Treatment of Giant Cell Arteritis
Corticosteroid medications like prednisone are delivered at high doses to serve as main treatment. It is likely for the doctors to begin treatment right away as it is needed to avert the loss of vision.
In just a few days of medication, patients will start to feel better. However, it is not likely for your vision to improve when there is already vision loss prior the start of treatment. The treatment will take a year or two or even longer until the inflammation is completely under control.
Exercising caution is important when using corticosteroids because they can cause muscle weakness, high blood pressure, osteoporosis and other serious side effects. Vitamin D and calcium supplements will be prescribed to patients in order to avert bone loss.
In the U.S., tocilizumab has just been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as treatment for giant cell arteritis. It is usually injected under the skin. A common side effect of using tocilizumab is that it makes the patient susceptible to infections.
Recommended Lifestyle Changes for Patients with Giant Cell Arteritis
To help manage giant cell arteritis and cope with your drugs’ side effects, patients are advised to eat healthy to prevent the onset of other conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and bone thinning. Alcohol, sugar and salt should be limited, while fish, lean meats, whole grains, vegetables and fruits should be emphasized.
Giant cell arteritis patients are also advised to regularly exercise and visit the doctor for checkups. Taking a daily low-dose of aspirin may decrease the chances of stroke and blindness.