What is Temporal Arteritis (AKA Giant Cell Arteritis)?

What is temporal arteritis (AKA giant cell arteritis)?

There are a number of general health conditions that can impact the health of the eye and have consequences for our vision. Diabetes and high blood pressure are probably the most familiar conditions that have the potential for causing problems with vision, whereas temporal arteritis (or Giant Cell Arteritis) is probably a less well known condition that can cause a sudden and permanent loss of vision.

What is Temporal Arteritis/Giant Cell Arteritis?

Temporal arteritis is a condition which results in inflammation of the lining of the temporal arteries, resulting in blockage of the artery and of blood flow. It is also known as Giant Cell Arteritis because large abnormal cells develop in the inflamed arteries. If the effects of this condition are limited to the arteries in the scalp, then the term Temporal Arteritis is used, if it is a more general condition affecting other blood vessels, the term Giant Cell Arteritis is more commonly used.

Risk groups and causes of temporal arteritis

Temporal arteritis tends to occur in people over the age of 60 and women are more commonly affected than men. There is no known cause but the sudden loss of vision is caused by a blockage in one of the arteries that supplies the eye, causing damage to the optic nerve.

What are the symptoms?

  • Headache is a common symptom and may come on suddenly or gradually, it is mainly towards the front and side of the head.
  • Scalp tenderness is common and is often noticed when brushing or combing your hair.
  • Jaw pain, particularly when chewing food.
  • Blurred vision or a sudden loss of vision for a short time.
  • Other symptoms include feeling tired, depression, fever, night sweats, loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss.
How is it diagnosed?

A blood test is performed to see if there are signs of inflammation in the body as a whole but other conditions may influence the outcome of these tests, so a temporal artery biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis.

What is the treatment?

If temporal arteritis is suspected, then treatment is usually started straight away. Steroid tablets are the usual treatment, starting with a high dose which is gradually reduced over time. If temporal arteritis is left untreated it can lead to not only visual loss in the affected eye but also in the other eye. The aim of treatment is to prevent further damage to the sight in the affected eye, protect the other eye and prevent stroke and other complications.

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