Temporal Arteritis

What is temporal arteritis?

  • Temporal (TEM-po-ral) arteritis (ahr-ter-I-tis) is also called giant cell arteritis or cranial arteritis. This is a condition where one or both of the temporal arteries are inflamed (swollen). Temporal arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen and are located above and in front of the ears. With temporal arteritis, the arteries are damaged and scars may form in them. This makes the temporal arteries swollen, narrow, and tender. Over time, the swollen and narrowed temporal arteries cause decreased blood flow to the eyes, face, and brain. The lack of oxygen may result in other life-threatening conditions, such as a stroke, blindness, or heart attack.

  • People who have temporal arteritis often have polymyalgia rheumatica. Polymyalgia rheumatica is a disease which affects the muscles and joints of the body. This causes stiffness and pain in the neck, shoulders, hips, and thighs. Both diseases may occur at the same time or one after the other. With proper treatment, you have a greater chance of having a full recovery and preventing further problems.

What causes temporal arteritis?

The exact cause of temporal arteritis is not known. The following are possible causes or conditions that may increase your chance of having temporal arteritis:

  • Age: Advanced age, particularly in people older than 50 years old.

  • Genetics: Temporal arteritis is more likely to occur if another family member also has temporal arteritis.

  • Infections: Infections caused by germs, such as viruses, parasites, or bacteria.

  • Immune system: The immune system is the part of your body that fights infection. Problems with the immune system sometimes makes your body attack its own cells. These problems may include rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

What are the signs and symptoms of temporal arteritis?

Headache is the most common symptom of temporal arteritis. This may be felt as severe and throbbing pain in one or both of your temples (sides of the head). Your temporal arteries may also be enlarged or bulging. You may also have any of the following:

  • Fever, cough, and body discomfort or weakness.

  • Jaw, tongue, or throat pain when chewing or talking.

  • Loss of appetite for food or unusual weight loss.

  • Pain or stiffness in the shoulders, hips, or legs, especially in the morning.

  • Problems with seeing, such as reduced vision, blindness in one or both eyes,blurring or double vision.

  • Tenderness of the scalp (skin on the head) when touched, or when combing your hair or wearing eye glasses.

  • Too much sweating, particularly at night time.

How is temporal arteritis diagnosed?

Caregivers will take your past and current health history. They may also want to know if other family members have temporal arteritis. You may have any of the following:

  • Biopsy: Caregivers may need to remove a small part of your temporal arteries. The tissue will then be sent to the lab for tests.

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

  • Imaging tests:

    • Angiography: This test looks for problems with your temporal arteries. Before the x-ray, a dye is put into a thin tube through a small cut in your groin. The groin is the area where your abdomen (stomach) meets your upper leg. The dye helps the arteries show up better on these x-ray pictures. People who are allergic to iodine or shellfish (lobster, crab, or shrimp) may be allergic to this dye. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to shellfish, dyes, or any medicines.

    • Arterial doppler: An arterial doppler test is done to check blood flow through an artery. A small metal disc with gel on it is placed on your skin over the artery. You can hear a "whooshing" sound when the blood is flowing through the artery. An "X" may be marked on your skin where caregivers feel or hear the blood flowing best. Caregivers may need to check blood flow more than once.

    • Computerized tomography scan: This is also called a CT scan. A special x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your head, including your temporal arteries. You may be given dye through an IV before the pictures are taken so that your organs show clearly. People who are allergic to iodine or shellfish (lobster, crab, or shrimp) may be allergic to some dyes. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to shellfish or have other allergies or health problems.

    • Magnetic resonance imaging scan: This test is called an MRI scan. During the MRI, pictures are taken of your head. An MRI may be used to look at the brain, muscles, joints, bones, or blood vessels. You will need to lie still during a MRI. Never enter the MRI room with an oxygen tank, watch, or any other metal objects. This can cause serious injury.

    • Positron emission tomography scan: This test is also called a PET scan. A PET scan shows the areas of the head where there are problems in the blood vessels. It also shows how much blood and oxygen is flowing to an area of the brain and other parts of the head.

How is temporal arteritis treated?

Treatment of temporal arteritis may depend on the extent and the symptoms present. You may need any of the following:

  • Medicines:

    • Steroids: This medicine may be given to decrease inflammation.

    • Others: Caregivers may offer you the following medicines to help treat temporal arteritis. Ask your caregiver for more information about how these medicines may help you.

      • Antiplatelets help prevent blood clots. This medicine makes it more likely for you to bleed or bruise.

      • Immunosuppressant: This medicine prevents the immune system from attacking your body. This may be offered if you have certain immune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

      • Immune globulins: This medicine is given as a shot or an IV infusion to make your immune system stronger. You may need immune globulins to treat or prevent an infection. It is also used when you have a chronic condition, such as lupus or arthritis. You may need many weeks of treatment. Each infusion can take from 2 to 5 hours.

What problems can temporal arteritis cause?

Any of the following may happen with temporal arteritis:

  • Aneurysm (bulge in the blood vessel).

  • Chest pain or heart attack.

  • Permanent blindness.

  • Stroke.

Where can I find more information?

Having temporal arteritis may be life-changing for you and your family. Accepting that you have temporal arteritis may be hard. You and those close to you may feel sad, angry, depressed, or frightened. These are normal feelings. Talk to your caregivers, family, or friends about your feelings. Contact the following for more information about temporal arteritis:

  • American Academy of Family Physicians
    11400 Tomahawk Creek Parkway
    Leawood , KS 66211-2680
    Phone: 1- 913 - 906-6000
    Phone: 1- 800 - 274-2237
    Web Address: http://www.aafp.org
  • National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease
    Information Clearinghouse
    National Institutes of Health
    1 AMS Circle
    Bethesda , MD 20892-3675
    Phone: 1- 301 - 495-4484
    Phone: 1- 877 - 226-4267
    Web Address: http://www.niams.nih.gov

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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