Temporal Arteritis

Temporal arteritis is a condition in which the blood vessels supplying the area of the head are inflamed, swollen and tender. Most frequently, temporal arteritis involves the large or medium arteries branching off from the carotid artery in the neck to supply the temporal area. If such an inflammation occurs in the arteries in the neck, upper body and arms it is called giant cell arteritis.

Causes of Temporal Arteritis

The cause of temporal arteritis is unknown, but scientists speculate that the condition is due, at least in part, to a faulty immune response. There is some evidence that this disease is linked to severe infections and the use of high doses of antibiotics. Temporal arteritis sometimes develops in conjunction with a disorder known as polymyalgia rheumatica. Temporal arteritis occurs more commonly in people over the age of 50, in women and in individuals not of African descent. There seems to be a hereditary factor involved in its causation.

Symptoms of Temporal Arteritis

The symptoms of temporal arteritis are many and varied. For approximately 40 percent of patients, the presenting symptoms may be vague, such as a dry cough, nerve pain or a feeling of weakness. Other symptoms of temporal arteritis may include:

  • Persistent fever
  • Excessive sweating
  • General malaise
  • Intermittent jaw pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Pain and stiffness in the neck, upper arms, shoulder, and hips
  • Throbbing headache in one part of the head
  • Scalp sensitivity
  • Vision difficulties
  • Weight loss

Other, less common symptoms of temporal arteritis may include:

  • Facial pain
  • Bleeding gums
  • Hearing loss
  • Pain or stiffness in the joints
  • Mouth sores

Diagnosis of Temporal Arteritis

Because of its frequently nonspecific symptoms, temporal arteritis is often difficult to diagnose. A physician suspecting this disorder will perform a complete physical examination, including several blood tests. Other tests which may be used for diagnosis include ultrasound, MRI or PET scan. If tempoal arteritis seems to be a possible diagnosis, a biopsy of the temporal artery may be done to make a definitive diagnosis.

Treatment of Temporal Arteritis

In order to reduce inflammation and relieve the symptoms of temporal arteritis, the doctor usually prescribes corticosteroids. While corticosteroids may produce undesirable side effects, such as weight gain, fluid retention and mood swings, they are an important weapon in fighting the dangers of this condition. It is important that treatment begin as soon as possible after diagnosis to prevent permanent vision loss. Treatment of temporal arteritis may require use of additional medications for up to a year or two in order to make sure the condition is completely eliminated and to reduce the risk of recurrence.

Risks of Temporal Arteritis

If left untreated, temporal arteritis can be a very dangerous condition. Risks of untreated temporal arteritis may include:

  • Blindness
  • Stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
  • Aneurysm
  • Damage to other blood vessels

Recovery from Temporal Arteritis

The prognosis for patients with temporal arteritis who are treated for the condition is excellent, although full recovery may require 1-2 years of treatment. There is a possibility of recurrence in patients who have suffered with this condition.

Additional Resources