Giant cell arteritis

Giant cell arteritis is an inflammation of the lining of your arteries — the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Most often, it affects the arteries in your head, especially those in your temples. For this reason, giant cell arteritis is sometimes called temporal arteritis or cranial arteritis.

Giant cell arteritis frequently causes headaches, jaw pain, and blurred or double vision. Blindness and, less often, stroke are the most serious complications of giant cell arteritis.

Prompt treatment of giant cell arteritis is critical in order to prevent permanent tissue damage and loss of vision. Corticosteroid medications usually relieve symptoms of giant cell arteritis and may prevent loss of vision. You'll likely begin to feel better within days of starting your treatment.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

The most common symptoms of giant cell arteritis are head pain and tenderness — often severe — that usually occurs in both temples. Some people, however, have pain in only one temple or in the front of the head.

Signs and symptoms of giant cell arteritis can vary. For some people, the onset of the condition feels like the flu — with muscle stiffness and aches (myalgia) around the shoulders and hips, fever and fatigue, as well as headaches.

Generally, signs and symptoms of giant cell arteritis include:

  • Persistent, severe head pain and tenderness, usually in your temple area
  • Vision loss or double vision
  • Scalp tenderness — it may hurt to comb your hair or even to lay your head on a pillow, especially where the arteries are inflamed
  • Jaw pain (jaw claudication) when you chew or open your mouth wide
  • Sudden, permanent loss of vision in one eye
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss

Pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders or hips are common symptoms of a related disorder, polymyalgia rheumatica. Approximately half the people with giant cell arteritis also have polymyalgia rheumatica.

When to see a doctor

If you develop a new, persistent headache or any of the problems listed above, see your doctor without delay. If you're diagnosed with giant cell arteritis, starting treatment as soon as possible can usually help prevent blindness.

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