Giant Cell Arteritis

Giant cell arteritis causes the arteries to become inflamed and narrowed, reducing blood flow. 

Giant cell arteritis—also known as temporal arteritis or Horton’s arteritis—is a type of vasculitis characterized by the inflammation and narrowing of the lining of the arteries. Although this condition can occur in almost any medium or large artery, it most commonly affects the temporal arteries, which are located near the temples and are responsible for supplying blood to the scalp.

Causes of Giant Cell Arteritis

Researchers are still trying to identify what causes giant cell arteritis. However, the following risk factors can increase someone’s chances of developing this condition:

  • Being over the age of 50
  • Being a woman
  • Having a disorder that causes the immune system to attack the body’s own tissues, such as polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR)
  • Having a family history of giant cell arteritis

Symptoms of Giant Cell Arteritis

Giant cell arteritis commonly causes a continuous throbbing headache in the forehead, as well as tenderness near the temples. Patients may also experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Dizziness Balance problems
  • Scalp tenderness
  • Vision problems, including blurred vision, double vision and loss of vision
  • Jaw pain
  • Muscle aches in the shoulders, upper arms, lower back, hips, buttocks and upper thighs
  • Loss of appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

Diagnosing Giant Cell Arteritis

Diagnosis often begins with a physical examination to check for scalp tenderness, swelling within the temporal arteries and a weak pulse. If this examination suggests the presence of giant cell arteritis, the physician will likely order one or more of the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Biopsy
  • Blood test
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan
  • Ultrasound

Treatment for Giant Cell Arteritis

It’s important to promptly seek treatment for giant cell arteritis, since failing to do so can lead to permanent blindness, an aneurysm, a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a stroke. Treatment for this condition often involves taking glucocorticoid medication such as prednisone. Because long-term use of corticosteroids like these can lead to osteoporosis, the specialists at Tampa General Hospital may also recommend exercising and taking calcium and vitamin D supplements.