Temporal arteritis affects medium-to-large arteries. It causes inflammation, swelling, tenderness, and damage to the blood vessels that supply blood to the head, neck, upper body and arms. It most commonly occurs in the arteries around the temples (temporal arteries) that branch off from the carotid artery in the neck. In some cases, the condition can occur in medium-to-large arteries in other places in the body as well.
The cause of the condition is unknown. It is believed to be due in part to a faulty immune response. The disorder has been linked to some infections and to certain genes.
The problem may develop with or following another inflammatory disorder known as polymyalgia rheumatica. Giant cell arteritis almost always occurs in people over age 50. It is most common in people of northern European descent. The condition may run in families.
Some common symptoms of this problem are:
Throbbing headache on one side of the head or the back of the head
Tenderness when touching the scalp
Other symptoms may include:
General ill feeling
Jaw pain that occurs when chewing
Pain in the arm after using it
Pain and stiffness in the neck, upper arms, shoulder, and hips
Weakness, excessive tiredness
Problems with eyesight may occur, and at times may begin suddenly. These problems include:
Reduced vision (blindness in one or both eyes)
Other symptoms may occur with this disease, including:
Take a bisphosphonate medicine such as alendronate (Fosamax) as prescribed by your provider.
You may also need to take other medications that suppress the immune system.
Most people make a full recovery, but treatment may be needed for 1 to 2 years or longer. The condition may return at a later date.
Damage to other blood vessels in the body such as aneurysms (ballooning of the blood vessels) may occur. This damage can lead to a stroke in the future.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have:
Throbbing headache that does not go away
Loss of vision
Other symptoms of temporal arteritis
There is no known prevention.
Hellmann DB. Giant cell arteritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, and Takayasu's arteritis. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, et al, eds. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 88.
Gordon A. Starkebaum, MD, professor of medicine, division of rheumatology, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.