Temporal arteritis is when blood vessels in and around the scalp become inflamed. “Temporal” because it occurs around the temples – the flat surfaces on either side of the forehead – and “arteritis” meaning inflammation of the arteries, the blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from the heart to the rest of the body.
Temporal arteritis, also called giant cell arteritis or Horton’s arteritis, is relatively rare, affecting just 5 in 10,000 people. But it can be quite dangerous if prompt medical attention is not received. When the arteries become inflamed, it can restrict blood flow, which increases blood pressure.
Symptoms of temporal arteritis are frequent and severe headaches, especially around the temples. Your scalp itself may be tender, and you may experience jaw pain that worsens with chewing, vision problems, fever, and fatigue.
If not caught early, temporal arteritis can lead to blindness in one or both eyes. This can occur suddenly and is typically permanent. Other dangers, like an aortic aneurysm, can cause life-threatening internal bleeding and are very real possibilities for patients with temporal arteritis.
The actual underlying cause for the condition remains unknown but it involves the body’s immune system attacking artery walls. Certain genetic factors coupled with environmental triggers could lead to temporal arteritis. Temporal arteritis affects more women than men, and older adults between the ages of 70 and 80 years are more likely to experience it.
Diagnosis & Treatment
A biopsy is the best way to identify the presence of temporal arteritis. Your doctor will numb the area before removing a tiny sample of the temporal artery, located just under the skin. The sample is then examined in a lab under a microscope. Certain blood tests may also help your doctor to diagnose inflammation in the body – although biopsy remains the best indicator.
Treatment typically involves reducing the inflammation with a course of steroids like prednisone. Patients may need to take this for up to two years with a gradual reduction in medication levels over time. The good news is that with proper treatment, a patient’s prognosis is very good – unless any vision loss has already occurred, which is, sadly, irreversible.
Most often, complications that occur (if any) are from the steroid treatment rather than the temporal arteritis itself. Prolonged steroid use can contribute to osteoporosis, so the medication may be supplemented with calcium and vitamin D. Doctors may also recommend annual imaging tests such as a positron emission tomography (PET) scan or computed tomography (CT) scan in order to treat future recurrences before any serious complications such as vision loss occur.
While the condition may seem frightening, the outlook for a patient diagnosed with temporal or giant cell arteritis remains quite positive. If you think yourself or a loved one is exhibiting symptoms consistent with temporal arteritis, contact Wooster Community Hospital by calling (330) 263-8100 or request a consultation. Time is critical in treating temporal arteritis so don’t delay.