Giant cell arteritis is a serious vascular condition that mainly affects the arteries in your head by causing the lining to become inflamed. This inflammation restricts blood flow through the affected arteries, which prevents sufficient oxygen being distributed to the surrounding tissues. It's not clear why some people develop giant cell arteritis, but genetics, environmental factors and an overactive immune response are thought to play a role in the development of the condition. Other risk factors include smoking and being over the age of fifty. Here's some information about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of giant cell arteritis:
Common symptoms of giant cell arteritis include head pain and tenderness, particularly around the temples, and jaw pain. Changes to your vision, such as experiencing double vision or loss of vision, are also common, and without prompt treatment, vision loss can be permanent. Other symptoms of this condition include fever and lethargy, and having giant cell arteritis puts you at an increased risk of having a stroke.
Your doctor will diagnose giant cell arteritis by taking details of your symptoms and conducting a physical exam. The condition can be difficult to diagnose, as the symptoms experienced can be similar to those caused by several other conditions. So, your doctor will take blood samples to check organ function and screen for raised inflammatory markers. You will also be referred for diagnostic imaging, such as an ultrasound or MRI, which will allow your doctor to see how blood is flowing through your arteries and identify any sections with inflammation. Additionally a biopsy may be carried out on the temporal artery, which is located close to the surface of the skin. This is carried out with local anaesthetic and involves having a needle inserted into the artery. The biopsy sample will contain abnormally large cells, due to inflammation, io giant cell arteritis.
Giant cell arteritis can be treated with a long course of corticosteroids, which will reduce inflammation and help prevent loss of vision. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to suppress your immune system, which can prevent inflammation recurring once you've completed your course of corticosteroids. You will require regular follow-up appointments with your doctor to confirm the condition is under control and to monitor you for potential side effects of your medication, such as osteoporosis, which your doctor will discuss with you in detail.
If you have symptoms associated with giant cell arteritis, schedule an urgent appointment with your doctor to minimise the possibility of developing complications from the condition.