Giant cell arteritis encompasses two distinct disorders, both causing severe inflammation in the affected arteries. Though both disorders are rare, they can cause damage to your arteries that lasts for years and can lead to serious consequences.
RARE, BUT CAN HAVE SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES
TEMPORAL ARTERITIS affects about 20 in every 100,000 women over age 50 each year. Untreated, temporal arteritis can lead to impaired vision or blindness.
TAKAYASU’S ARTERITIS affects about 5 in every 1 million women each year, most frequently young Asians. Takayasu’s arteritis affects the arteries to the arms, brain and abdominal organs and, if severe, can lead to stroke.
See a vascular surgeon
Women age 50+ and young Asian women who experience the symptoms outlined above should see a vascular surgeon for evaluation. You will be asked questions about symptoms and medical history, including questions about family members. The vascular surgeon will also perform a physical exam.
TESTS MAY BE RECOMMENDED
A CT scan, MRI or angiogram may be recommended to look for characteristic artery narrowing.
A blood test may be recommended to look for signs of vessel inflammation.
In the case of temporal arteritis, biopsies are often performed on the arteries in the temple areas of the forehead.
There is no known way to prevent giant cell arteritis. The key to a good outcome is early diagnosis and treatment. Women age 50+ and young Asian women should be attentive to the symptoms outlined above and seek medical help if they develop.
SUDDEN FLU-LIKE SYMPTOMS
Both temporal arteritis and Takayasu’s arteritis have an acute flu-like phase that can last several weeks.
HEADACHE, VISION CHANGES, JAW & JOINT PAIN
Temporal arteritis can cause headache, changes in vision, jaw pain while eating, and arthritis of the jaw, neck, shoulders and hips (polymyalgia rheumatic).
PAIN IN ARMS OR ABDOMEN, HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE
Takayasu’s arteritis causes artery narrowing and you may feel pain in your arms or abdomen. You may also experience high blood pressure.
The exact cause of giant cell arteritis is unknown. Because both temporal arteritis and Takayasu’s arteritis tend to affect women of a specific age and ethnic background, both hormonal and genetic causes are thought to play a role.
To minimize the risk of an aortic dissection:
Have your blood pressure tested regularly.
If you have high blood pressure, follow your doctor’s instructions for managing it.
Avoid use of recreational drugs.
If you don’t smoke, don’t start.
If you do smoke, ask your vascular surgeon to help you find a smoking cessation program that will work for you.