We hear about arthritis, but have you heard of arteritis, the inflammation of arteries. Giant Cell Arteritis is a condition in the field of rheumatology. Most rheumatologists take care of arthritis, the inflammation of the joints. Who would have known you could have inflammation in the blood vessels. As the blood vessels inflamed, it causes symptoms that can bring a lot of discomforts and could affect your quality of life. The inflammation is primarily in the head. Giant cell arteritis may also be called temporal arteritis. When you can get a diagnosis, you can get the treatment you need and improve your quality of life.
Inflammation is something that happens throughout the body. You may be familiar with inflammation of the joints, or you notice inflammation when you hurt yourself. Inflammation can happen in the organs as well as the blood vessels. Inflammation is considered a localized condition in which you experience swelling, redness, and heat when touched. You may not see inflammation as a defense mechanism, but the body does that as a method of healing. Naturally, when we hurt ourselves, our white blood cells produce substances that protect the body from infection. Sometimes inflammation is harmful. In the case of arthritis, our bodies respond to certain triggers and in the end, it destroys the joints.
Giant Cell Arteritis Background
We know we have blood vessels all over the body. Without blood vessels, we would not be able to get the blood we need and ultimately die. Blood vessels are affected by our diets and even heart problems. Bruising is a result of broken blood vessels, but the question is how do blood vessels become inflamed. Arteries are the largest of the blood vessels and susceptible to many problems. The lining inside the artery swells. The swelling in the arteries affects blood flow. When there is not enough blood going through the arteries, there is also not enough oxygen and nutrients; therefore, the cells and tissues begin to suffer. You experience symptoms that affect your quality of life. Most symptoms occur in the head.
The symptoms of giant cell arteritis are pain and tenderness in the head. We have arteries all over the body, but the arteries in the head are primarily affected. Unfortunately, you will feel like you are coming down with a cold. The pain can be mild or severe. Not only is your head affected, but your whole face may be in pain. It becomes hard to chew and open your mouth. Your body suffers from fatigue and fever. Weight loss may also occur. For most of us, that is not a bad thing at all. Besides weight loss, your vision is affected. The vision loss or double vision may come and go, but some people have permanent vision loss. Other serious factors besides blindness include stroke and aortic aneurysms. Strokes result from a lack of blood flow to the brain, and giant cell arteritis will cause that.
Factors of Giant Cell Arteritis
No one knows the real cause of giant cell arteritis, but there are several risk factors. Family history is one risk factor. That may mean that giant cell arteritis has genetic factors. Age and sex are other factors. Women tend to suffer from this condition more than men. It is rare for young people to suffer from giant cell arteritis. It is a condition that does not typically show up until the age of 50. Most people will not see symptoms until 70. If you already have polymyalgia rheumatic, you will also be at a higher risk for giant cell arteritis.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If you notice symptoms of giant cell arteritis or have some of the risk factors, you should seek medical attention. The doctor will first do a physical exam. During the exam, they will check your temporal arteries for tenderness. Blood tests are done next. The doctor also does a biopsy. The doctor will remove part of the artery for examination. During the examination, the artery is looked at under a microscope. The artery will be inflamed, and the cells in the artery should be larger than normal. Sometimes imaging tests are done too. MRA, PET scans, and ultrasounds are all imaging tests that may be done. It is important to get a diagnosis because you do not want to suffer from life-threatening complications. Treatment is the next step. Treatment starts with corticosteroids. The steroids are given in high doses; this is to prevent damage and vision loss. You will eventually be weaned off of the drug. There are so many side effects that it is not good to stay on it. Eating properly and exercise can help your symptoms. You can also choose to take Aspirin when you have headaches.
Giant cell arteritis is not the most common inflammatory disease, but it is serious. Do not ignore your symptoms. If you notice abnormal pain in your temples or vision issues, get a check-up right away. Getting treatment will help save your vision and improve your quality of life.
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