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Takayasu's arteritis

Takayasu's arteritis (tah-kah-YAH-sooz ahr-tuh-RIE-tis) is a rare type of vasculitis, a group of disorders that cause blood vessel inflammation. In Takayasu's arteritis, the inflammation primarily damages the aorta — the large artery that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body — and the aorta's main branches.

The disease can lead to blockages or narrowed arteries (stenosis) or abnormally dilated arteries (aneurysms). Takayasu's arteritis can also lead to arm or chest pain and high blood pressure and eventually to heart failure or stroke.

The goal of treatment is to relieve inflammation in the arteries and prevent potential complications. Even with early detection and treatment, however, Takayasu's arteritis can be challenging to manage.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications

Stage 1 symptoms

Takayasu's arteritis symptoms often occur in two stages. In the first stage, you're likely to feel unwell with:

  • Fatigue
  • Fast and unintentional weight loss
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Slight fever

Not everyone has these early symptoms, however. It's possible for inflammation to damage arteries for years before you realize something is wrong.

Stage 2 symptoms

Second-stage symptoms begin to develop when inflammation has caused arteries to narrow. At this point, there's less blood, oxygen and nutrients reaching your organs and tissues. These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Arm or leg weakness or pain with use (claudication)
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Headaches
  • Memory problems
  • Trouble thinking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Visual problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Difference in blood pressure between your arms
  • A difficult-to-find or absent pulse in the wrists — Takayasu's arteritis is sometimes called pulseless disease because narrowed arteries can make normal pulses difficult or impossible to detect
  • Too few red blood cells (anemia)
  • Chest pain
  • Abdominal pain

When to see a doctor

If you have symptoms that might suggest Takayasu's arteritis, see your doctor. Many signs and symptoms of Takayasu's arteritis are similar to those of other conditions, which can make diagnosis challenging. Still, early detection of the disease is important for getting the most benefit from treatment and preventing complications.

If you've already been diagnosed with Takayasu's arteritis, keep in mind that the symptoms of a disease flare (recurrence) are often similar to those that occurred originally. Also pay attention to any new signs or symptoms. These may indicate either a disease flare or a complication of treatment.

In Takayasu's arteritis, the aorta and other major arteries, including those leading to your head and kidneys, become inflamed. Over time, the inflammation causes changes in these arteries, including thickening, narrowing and scarring. The result is reduced blood flow to vital tissues and organs, which can lead to serious complications and even death. Sometimes arteries become abnormally dilated, leading to aneurysms that may rupture.

Just what causes the initial inflammation in Takayasu's arteritis isn't known. It's likely that Takayasu's arteritis is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system malfunctions and attacks your own arteries as if they were foreign substances. The disease may be triggered by a virus or other infection.

Takayasu's arteritis primarily affects young girls and women in their 20s and 30s. The disorder occurs worldwide, but it's most common in Asian women.

The severity of Takayasu's arteritis may vary. In some people, the condition remains mild and doesn't produce complications. But in others, extended or recurring cycles of inflammation and healing in the arteries can lead to one or more of the following:

  • Hardening and narrowing of blood vessels, which can cause reduced blood flow to organs and tissues
  • High blood pressure, usually as a result of decreased blood flow to your kidneys
  • Inflammation of the heart, which may affect the heart muscle (myocarditis), the heart valves (valvulitis) or the sac around the heart (pericarditis)
  • Heart failure due to high blood pressure, myocarditis or aortic regurgitation — a condition in which a faulty aortic valve allows blood to leak back into your heart — or a combination of these
  • Ischemic stroke, a type of stroke that occurs as a result of reduced or blocked blood flow in arteries leading to your brain
  • Transient ischemic attack, a temporary stroke that has all the symptoms of an ischemic stroke without causing lasting damage
  • Aneurysm in the aorta, which occurs when the walls of the blood vessel weaken and stretch out, forming a bulge that has the potential to rupture
  • Heart attack, an uncommon event that may occur as a result of reduced blood flow to the heart
  • Lung involvement when the arteries to the lungs (pulmonary arteries) become diseased

Pregnancy

A healthy pregnancy is possible for women with Takayasu's arteritis. However, the disease can affect your fertility and pregnancy. If you have Takayasu's arteritis and are planning on becoming pregnant, it's important to work with your doctor to develop a comprehensive plan to limit complications of pregnancy before you conceive. In addition, you'll be closely monitored throughout your pregnancy.

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