What is temporal arteritis?

Temporal arteritis is an autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of the blood vessels in the body, eventually causing them to close off. For the eye, this can be devastating, as the ophthalmic artery can be closed off, resulting in loss of blood to the eye, which results in blindness.

A severe, constant headache may be one of the first signs of temporal arteritis, a condition caused by inflammation of the large temporal arteries located on either side of the head. Also known as cranial or giant-cell arteritis, this painful condition is twice as common in women than in men and usually occurs in people ages 50 or older.

Those afflicted describe it as a severe throbbing, burning sensation, most often at the temple on one side of the head. Other symptoms, such as a low-grade fever, fatigue, loss of weight or appetite, or a tender scalp or temple may also occur. Chewing may cause aching in the jaw muscles. Doctors don't know what triggers the problem, but it involves a misguided immune response in which antibodies attack the blood vessel walls. The resulting swelling can progressively narrow the affected vessels, reducing blood flow. In severe cases, arteries become totally blocked. If this happens in the artery supplying the retina, it threatens the vision in that eye. If an artery that serves the brain is impaired, a stroke could result. However, when caught and treated early, temporal arteritis responds well to medication.

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