Temporal, giant cell, and cranial arteritis occur when one or more arteries become inflammed, swollen, and tender.
Temporal arteritis commonly occurs in the the arteries around the temples (temporal arteries). These vessels branch off from the carotid artery in the neck. However, the condition can occur in medium-to-large arteries in other places in the body.
The cause of the condition is unknown. It is believed to be due in part to a faulty immune response. The disorder has been linked to severe infections and the use of high doses of antibiotics.
The problem may develop with or following another inflammatory disorder known as polymyalgia rheumatica. Giant cell arteritis almost always occurs in people over age 50. It is rare in people of African descent. The condition may run in families.
Some common symptoms of this problem are:
Throbbing headache on one side of the head or the back of the head
Tenderness when touching the scalp
Other symptoms can feel like a bad flu, such as:
General ill feeling
Jaw pain that comes and goes or occurs when chewing
Loss of appetite
Pain and stiffness in the neck, upper arms, shoulder, and hips
Weakness, excessive tiredness
Problems with eyesight may occur, and at times may begin suddenly. These problems include:
Reduced vision (blindness in one or both eyes)
Other symptoms that may occur with this disease, including:
You may also need to take other medications that suppress the immune system.
Most people make a full recovery, but treatment may be needed for 1 to 2 years or longer. The condition may return at a later date.
Damage to other blood vessels in the body such as aneurysms (ballooning of the blood vessels) may occur. This damage can lead to a stroke in the future.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have a throbbing headache that does not go away, and other symptoms of temporal arteritis.
There is no known prevention.
Hellmann DB. Giant cell arteritis, polymyalgia rheumatica, and Takayasu's arteritis. In: Firestein GS, Budd RC, Gabriel SE, et al, eds. Welley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2012:chap 88.
Matthew M. Cooper, MD, FACS, Medical Director, Cardiovascular Surgery, HealthEast Care System, St. Paul, MN. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.