Giant cell arteritis is a form of inflammation affecting the arteries that necessitates immediate treatment. The inflammation causes the artery to constrict which disrupts the blood supply to the area. In severe cases, the blood vessels entirely close. Even though any medium or large artery can be affected, those at the temples are the usual sites.
Once the blood vessels that supply the eyes are involved, abrupt blindness in one or both eyes can occur. Remember that this vision loss is usually severe and permanent. There is no available cure but immediate treatment using corticosteroids can alleviate the symptoms but could not readily avert vision loss in the other eye that is not involved.
What are the indications of giant cell arteritis?
- General feeling of being sick
- Jaw or tongue pain while talking or chewing
- Constant or intermittent headaches that vary from mild to intense
- Sore temples
- Inflamed, red and tender areas on the scalp as well as localized hair loss
- Sudden episode of double vision
- Death of the affected scalp area in severe cases of hair loss
- Abrupt and painless blindness in one eye that can occur in the other eye after 1-10 days
- Other vision issues such as blurring, color changes and flashing lights
What are the causes?
The exact cause of giant cell arteritis is usually unknown. Based in some research, it is believed that it is a form of autoimmune disorder.
The potential risk factors for the condition include the following:
- Age – individuals over the age of 50 are prone
- Gender – women are more affected than men
- Race – Caucasians are more susceptible to the condition
The treatment for giant cell arteritis is aimed on preventing further damage to the affected tissues. If an individual is suspected with the condition, the doctor will start immediate treatment using medications even before the results of the biopsy is available. Prompt action is required to preserve the remaining vision of the individual.
The commonly used treatment options include the following:
- Corticosteroids – these medications are the preferred choice since it provides relief to the symptoms within 48-72 hours as well as reducing the risk for future vision loss. Once the symptoms are controlled, the dosage is steadily lowered over a span of weeks to a low-dose maintenance level. As for severe cases involving vision loss, the individual might require intravenous treatment during the initial 5 days or more followed by oral corticosteroids. In addition, methotrexate might be added to help lower the dosage of corticosteroid when the soreness has settled.
- Drugs for osteoporosis – prolonged use of corticosteroids can lead to the weakening of the bones. An individual with osteoporosis is at risk for fractures and bone infections.
- Ongoing medical monitoring – the drug therapy should be monitored closely to ensure relief from the symptoms and reduce bone loss. Steroids are usually used to effectively deal with the condition but it should be taken for 12-18 months. Take note that giant cell arteritis typically settles within 5 years.