Giant cell arteritis - (GCA)
Giant cell arteritis is a condition which causes inflammation on the inside of some arteries (blood vessels). It is called 'giant cell' because typical large cells develop in the wall of the inflamed arteries. The arteries commonly affected are those around the head and neck area. The artery most commonly affected is the temporal artery. (You have a temporal artery on each side of the head. They are under the skin to the sides of the forehead - the temples.) So, the condition is sometimes called 'temporal arteritis'.
Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is an inflammation of the lining of your arteries - the blood vessels that carry oxygen-rich blood from your heart to the rest of your body. Although GCA can affect the arteries in your neck, upper body and arms, it occurs most often in the arteries in the head, especially the temples. For that reason, the disorder is sometimes called temporal arteritis or cranial arteritis. GCA is also known as granulomatous arteritis - a reference to a particular type of inflammation
GCA frequently causes headaches, jaw pain and blurred or double vision. But the most serious potential complications are blindness and, less often, stroke. These problems can occur when swelling in the arteries impairs blood flow to your eyes or brain.
Although there's no cure for GCA, immediate treatment with corticosteroid medications usually relieves symptoms and prevents loss of vision.
Signs and symptoms
The first case of GCA was described in 1890 by a British surgeon whose patient complained that severe head pain prevented him from wearing a hat. Times have changed, but the most common symptom of GCA is still head pain and tenderness — often severe — that usually occurs in both temples. Sometimes, however, you may have pain in only one temple or in the front of your head.
Yet signs and symptoms of GCA can vary greatly. For some people, the onset of the condition feels like the flu — with muscle aches (myalgia), fever and fatigue, as well as headache.
Other common signs and symptoms include:
If you develop any of these symptoms, see your doctor without delay. Starting treatment as soon as possible can usually help prevent blindness.
Your arteries are pliable tubes with thick, elastic walls. Oxygenated blood leaves your heart through your body's main artery, the aorta. The aorta then subdivides into smaller arteries that deliver blood to all parts of your body, including your brain and internal organs.
In GCA, some of these arteries become inflamed, causing them to swell. Although almost any large or medium-sized artery can be affected, swelling most often occurs in the temporal arteries, which are located just in front of your ears and continue up to your scalp. In some cases, the swelling affects just part of an artery, with sections of normal vessel in between.
Wherever it occurs, the swelling narrows the blood vessels, reducing the amount of blood — and therefore oxygen and vital nutrients — that reach your body's tissues. In some cases, a blood clot may form in an affected artery, obstructing blood flow completely. Diminished blood flow to your eyes can cause blindness, and an interrupted blood supply to your brain can lead to a stroke.
Sometimes instead of becoming narrower, a blood vessel — especially the aorta or one of its large branches — may weaken and form a bulge (aneurysm), a potentially life-threatening condition.
Even without these serious complications, inflamed blood vessels in your head frequently cause pain and tenderness, especially in your temples.
Some studies suggest a link between GCA and some types of pneumonia and parvovirus infection, a mild disease that primarily affects children. But other studies have failed to find such a link.
Although the exact causes of GCA aren't known, several factors can increase your risk, including:
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