What Is the Best Treatment for Temporal Arteritis?

Reviewed on 3/22/2021

What is temporal arteritis?

Temporal arteritis is a serious condition, but it is also controllable, treatable, and often curable.
Temporal arteritis is a serious condition, but it is also controllable, treatable, and often curable.

Temporal arteritis, also known as giant cell arteritis (GCA), is a condition where people’s arteries (tubes that move blood from the heart to other parts of the body) are swollen and narrowed. Temporal arteritis mostly occurs in the blood vessels near the temples. For that reason, the condition is called temporal arteritis. As far as heart-related disorders are concerned, temporal arteritis is the most common. 

The term “giant cell arteritis” is used because when the cells of the swollen arteries are studied under a microscope, they appear as huge “giant cells.” 

Temporal arteritis affects five people in every 10,000. If you suspect you might have it, you should seek medical attention urgently to prevent effects caused by a delayed diagnosis such as permanent vision loss.

Temporal arteritis is a disease where the arteries on the side of your head become swollen. Temporal arteries lie on your temples just behind your eyes. The swelling and narrowing of the arteries slow blood flow, causing a reduced supply of oxygen. This often leads to headaches and blindness if not addressed quickly. 

Other temporal arteritis symptoms include:

If you notice any of these symptoms, seek help from the doctor as soon as possible. 

Causes for temporal arteritis

The exact cause of temporal arteritis is unknown. However, during it, your immune system attacks the arteries. It is not known why and when the immune system attack occurs.

Who can get temporal arteritis

Temporal arteritis is a rare condition, with people above the age of 50 being more at risk of developing it. Women are also at a greater risk of getting it more than men. 

Temporal arteritis occurs in people all over the world, but is common in Scandinavian people.

Diagnosis for temporal arteritis

To confirm a diagnosis of giant cell arteritis, your doctor will take a small sample (called a biopsy) of the temporal artery. They will locate this artery easily, as it is situated close to the skin just in front of your ears and continues up to your scalp. 

Biopsy results make it easier to diagnose temporal arteritis, but your doctor will also consider your symptoms and may order more tests to make sure the diagnosis is correct.

Treatments for temporal arteritis

Temporal arteritis is a serious condition, but it is also controllable, treatable, and often curable. 

Once the doctor diagnoses you with temporal arteritis, a steroid medication known as prednisone is started immediately. Prednisone causes the swollen arteries and the headaches to quickly decrease. 

Most people report improvement within one to three days of taking the medication. Occasionally, the patient can be admitted to a hospital after being medicated to be monitored as they receive additional tests. Monitoring the patient is highly recommended because of the side effects that come from prednisone. 

The effects are weight gain, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, mood swings, cataracts, skin thinning, and muscle weakness. Most patients taking the medicine also take vitamin D supplements and calcium to help combat these side effects. 

Another approved treatment for temporal arteritis is Actemra. It is given as a subcutaneous injection that can be self-administered once every one or two weeks. It can also be given as a monthly intravenous (IV) medication.

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Complications and side effects of temporal arteritis

The most common condition that comes from people with temporal arteritis is polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR). This causes pain and stiffness in your muscles and joints. If it develops, it often occurs after the development of temporal arteritis. 

Typical symptoms of PMR are tenderness, pain, and stiffness of the upper arms and muscles on the shoulder. It may also occur around the hips and neck. It occurs due to the inflammation of muscles. The treatment is similar to that of temporal arteritis. 

Side effects of prednisone

There are several common side effects of prednisone, including:

If you experience any of the more severe side effects listed below, talk to your doctor:

If pregnant, you should take prednisone only if prescribed by the doctor. Children born by mothers receiving the medicine should be observed carefully for any signs of hypoadrenalism. Prednisone is passed through breast milk; therefore, while taking it, breastfeeding is not recommended.


 

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References
American College of Rheumatology: “Giant Cell Arteritis.”

Brigham and Women’s Hospital: “Vision Loss due to Temporal Arteritis.”

Deutsches Ärzteblatt International: “The Diagnosis and Treatment of Giant Cell Arteritis.”

Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center: “Giant Cell Arteritis.”

National Health Service: “Temporal arteritis.”

Patient: “Temporal Arteritis.”

RxList: “Prednisone.”

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