What is it?
Giant cell arteritis (GCA), also called temporal arteritis, is a type of vasculitis in which the walls of the medium-sized and large-sized arteries of the body become inflamed. This inflammation restricts blood flow through the affected blood vessels causing pain and sometimes more serious complications, such as blindness. GCA most often affects the arteries near the temple and those in the scalp, head, neck and arms.
What are the effects?
There are three subsets of giant cell arteritis (GCA) that have different sets of symptoms. Symptoms of the different subsets can overlap, however.
Constitutional symptoms: In this subset of GCA, the disease process is dominated by manifestations of system-wide inflammation.
Large-vessel GCA : In 10 to 15 percent of people with GCA, the large arteries deeper inside the body are affected.
How is it diagnosed?
To determine if you have giant cell arteritis (GCA), your doctor will usually have you get a biopsy of a small piece of one of your affected arteries, usually the temporal artery which is above and just in front of the ear. In 20 to 30 percent of cases, the biopsy results will be negative. In these cases, your doctor may biopsy a different artery or may make the diagnosis of GCA based on other physical and laboratory tests.
What are the treatment options?
The symptoms of giant cell arteritis (GCA) are alleviated very quickly with the use of high doses of corticosteroids. Symptoms will usually greatly improve in 12 to 48 hours. Because blindness caused by GCA is permanent once it happens, your doctor may start you on corticosteroids even before the results of the temporal artery biopsy are available.
Expect to stay on corticosteroid treatment for many months to several years, but your doctor will likely lower the dosage once your symptoms are under control. Disease relapses occur during treatment in over 60 percent of patients, usually bringing on general malaise and flu-like symptoms rather than symptoms associated with blood vessel inflammation. If you have such a relapse, your doctor will raise your corticosteroid dosage again.