Temporal, giant cell, and cranial arteritis occur when one or more arteries become inflammed, swollen, and tender.
Temporal arteritis most commonly occurs in the head, especially in the temporal arteries that branch off from a blood vessel in the neck called the carotid artery. However, the condition can affect almost any medium-to-large artery anywhere in the body.
The cause is unknown, but is believed to be partly due to a faulty immune response. The disorder has been associated with severe infections and the use of high doses of antibiotics.
The disorder may develop along with or after polymyalgia rheumatica. Giant cell arteritis is almost always seen in people over age 50, but it may sometimes occur in younger people. It is rare in people of African descent. There is some evidence that it runs in families.
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
Throbbing headache on one side of the head or the back of the head
Scalp sensitivity, tenderness when touching the scalp
About 40% of people will have other, nonspecific symptoms such as respiratory complaints (most frequently dry cough) or weakness or pain along many nerve areas. Rarely, paralysis of eye muscles may occur. A persistent fever may be the only symptom.
Signs and tests
The doctor will examine your head. Touching the head may show that the scalp is sensitive and has a tender, thick artery on one side. The affected artery may have a weak pulse or no pulse.
Blood tests cannot diagnose this condition. A biopsy and examination of tissue from the affected artery confirm the diagnosis in most cases. The biopsy is done on an outpatient basis while you are under local anesthesia.
Side effects from steroid or immune-suppressing medications may also occur.
Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you have a persistent throbbing headache 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, Harris ED Jr., et al, eds. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2008:chap 81.
Shabir Bhimji, MD, PhD, Specializing in General Surgery, Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgery, Midland, TX. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.