Giant cell arteritis, also known as temporal arteritis, occurs when one or more arteries become inflamed, swollen and tender. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Oxygenated blood leaves your heart through your body's main artery, the aorta. The aorta then divides into smaller arteries that deliver blood to all parts of your body, including your brain and internal organs. When these arteries become inflamed or swollen, blood flow decreases and less oxygen can travel to the respective parts of the body.
The exact cause is not known. Researchers believe giant cell arteritis may be an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases occur when our body’s immune or defense system attacks its own healthy cells. Many people with giant cell arteritis often have polymyalgia rheumatica. Older individuals (people older than 50), women, and people of Northern European descent (especially Scandinavian) are more likely to have giant cell arteritis.
Giant cell arteritis can affect any artery, but most commonly affects the arteries that provide blood to the side of the face near the temple. The most common symptoms may include headache, jaw pain, blurred or double vision, fever, weight loss, and pain or stiffness in the neck, shoulder, or hips.
Your doctor can diagnose giant cell arteritis through a combination of a physical exam, blood tests, imaging, and tissue biopsy. Treatment may involve specific medications that help reduce inflammation within the affected arteries. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to avoid complications such as blindness or stroke. If you or a family member has been diagnosed with giant cell arteritis, talk with your doctor or specialist about the most current treatment options. Support groups are also a good resource and can help you connect with others affected by giant cell arteritis.