Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA), also known as Temporal Arteritis, is an inflammatory disease that affects the large blood vessels of the scalp, neck, and arms. The progressive accumulation of inflammatory cells within the blood vessel leads to narrowing and at times complete blockage of blood flow. This blockage deprives organs from receiving the proper nutrients and oxygen necessary to function. Because these blood vessels also nourish our eyes, the reduced blood flow can cause sudden, painless, and often permanent vision loss.
What is the cause of GCA?
The exact cause of GCA is not completely understood. It is believed to be an autoimmune process, which means the bodies’ immune system erroneously begins to attack itself.
Symptoms of GCA
The symptoms of GCA are the result of poor blood flow to the affected body parts. The symptoms include but are not limited to:
- Scalp Tenderness
- Jaw pain
- Double Vision
- Sudden decrease in vision or complete loss of vision
- Unintentional weight loss
- Shoulder/hip pain and stiffness
Who is at risk?
The average age of onset for GCA is age 65. It is rare for the disease process to be diagnosed in anyone younger than age 50. Women have increased risk compared to men and there is also increased risk in those of Scandinavian descent.
When clinical suspicion for GCA is high, a temporal artery biopsy will be performed urgently. During this procedure, a segment of the temporal arty is removed for biopsy and sent to a pathologist to investigate the presence of inflammatory cells. A temporal artery biopsy is frequently performed as an in-office procedure with local and systemic analgesics. A blood draw is also performed to evaluate the presence of inflammatory markers that are commonly found in patient with GCA.
What are treatment options for GCA?
Because of the potential cause for permanent vision loss associated with GCA, treatment is initiated immediately, even prior to performing and receiving results from the temporal artery biopsy. This is done to prevent and/or lessen the severity of permanent vision loss. Typically, once vision is loss we are unable to restore it, therefore every attempt is made to prevent the loss of vision from ever occurring. Treatment consists of high dose steroids, gradually and slowly tapering the dosage as the symptoms and blood work improves.
Schedule A Consultation
If you are concerned you are experiencing symptoms of GCA immediately contact a trusted medical specialist in your area. If you are in the Houston area, schedule an appointment with us by calling (832) 899-5699