What is Giant Cell Arteritis?
Giant cell arteritis is a medical condition wherein there is inflammation of the blood vessels of the human body particularly the medium and large-sized arteries located in the head and neck. This condition is also called temporal arteritis because this affects the arteries around the temples. Giant cell arteritis is said to be the most common types of vasculitis, a condition which gives rise to inflammation of the arteries and veins.
Giant cell arteritis can give rise to various signs and symptoms such as aching and soreness in and around the temples, jaw muscle pain while eating, and vision loss. These can often develop suddenly, but may follow vague symptoms such as weight loss and prolonged tiredness. The most common symptom is a mild to severe headache, although some people also experience jaw pain and vision problems. These symptoms usually develop quickly though some people may report feeling more general symptoms such as weight loss or feeling tired all the time, for several weeks or months before more symptoms appear.
Most patients with giant cell arteritis may also experience mild to severe headache which may be sudden in onset. This headache mostly affects the front or the side of the head or temples but can also affect the back or the top of the head, or behind the ears. These areas may also feel tender. This headache may be unique to giant cell arteritis and may not be relieved by doses of painkillers such as paracetamol. The scalp may also feel sore and tender to touch. The arteries in the temples, also known as the temporal arteries, may be visibly swollen.
Less commonly, patients with giant cell arteritis may also feel jaw pain (jaw claudication) and visual disturbances. This jaw pain may be evident upon chewing or talking. The pain stops when the jaw is rested; the pain may be referred to the tongue.
People with giant cell arteritis may also experience vision problems in the form of partial or, less often, complete vision loss in one or both eyes. This feels like shade covering your eye. If this is left untreated, this can progress to total blindness. There may also be episodes of double vision before blindness occurs. Other associated signs and symptoms are mild fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss and depression.
Giant cell arteritis may give rise to complications such as visual impairment, abdominal aorta aneurysm, and cardiovascular disease. There may be loss vision in one eye to total blindness. Abdominal aortic aneurysm can result from inflammation which can lead to the weakening in the walls of one of the major blood vessels in the body, known as the abdominal aorta. This is the main blood vessel that is responsible for taking blood from the heart and distributing it to the rest of the body. Giant cell arteritis can also predispose one to have cardiovascular disease or diseases of the heart or blood vessels, which can further lead to heart attacks and stroke.
Giant cell arteritis usually affects adults which are over the age of 50 and is three times more common in women than in men. It is also seven times more common in white people than in black people.
Giant Cell Arteritis Can Be Diagnosed Through Cranial Ultrasound
A recent study presented recently at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress (EULAR 2014), shows that cranial ultrasound has a greater sensitivity than temporal artery biopsy, and a comparable specificity in the diagnosis of Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA). The researchers have found out that cranial ultrasound was the strongest predictor for a diagnosis of GCA when results were evaluated against a confirmed clinical diagnosis at three months. The results suggest that cranial ultrasound may soon replace TAB in the assessment of patients with a suspected diagnosis of GCA in routine clinical practice. This study was done by researchers from the Centre for Translational Inflammation Research, University of Birmingham, UK.
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