What is Giant Cell Arteritis?

Are you dealing with frequent headaches and changes in your vision?

Giant-cell arteritis (GCA), also known as temporal arteritis, is an inflammatory condition that affects the blood vessels (e.g. temporal artery giant cell arteritisand others) resulting in headaches, and pain in the temporal areas, as well as vision changes, jaw pain, and flu-like symptoms. GCA may also be accompanied by polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), which causes sudden muscle pain and stiffness in certain areas of the body (often the shoulders and neck). GCA is an urgent problem and must be evaluated and treated immediately!

Fortunately, if you suspect that you might have giant cell arteritis our Haddon Heights, NJ, Board Certified Rheumatologist Mark Fisher MD FACR is here to help.

How will I know that I have giant cell arteritis?

As we mentioned above, the most common symptoms of GCA are headaches, shoulder pain, jaw pain, and blurred or lost vision. Some people will also experience scalp soreness, throat pain, depression or a persistent cough. While not common, some people can go blind if they don’t seek treatment for their symptoms immediately.

What causes giant cell arteritis?

Unfortunately, not much is known about the cause of this condition. We do know that aging does play a role and that the immune system does attack the arteries, leading to inflammation; It is still not clear why these attacks happen and who is more likely to develop this condition.

How is giant cell arteritis diagnosed?

The only way to diagnose giant cell arteritis is to biopsy a part of the temporal artery, which is found near the scalp. The biopsy procedure is minor, under local anesthesia as an outpatient, and causes minor discomfort. Of course, our Haddon Height, NJ, rheumatology doctor will recommend getting blood tests to check for the inflammation with an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate(ESR) and C reactive protein level and other testing as appropriate.

What are my treatment options if I do have giant cell arteritis?

The gold standard for treating giant cell arteritis is with corticosteroids, and this oral medication should be administered promptly to try and prevent serious complications such as blindness.  Most patients experience an improvement in their symptoms after just a short time of taking steroids. Of course, there are significant risks for complications possible with the high dose steroids required here, but the benefits certainly do warrant such interventions. Such options and risks can be discussed with your Rheumatologist.

If you are in the South Jersey community and dealing with any musculoskeletal problems or autoimmune disorders such as GCA or others, chances are good that you are looking for a doctor that you trust to provide you with customized and compassionate care. If so, call our office today to schedule a consultation with Board Certified Rheumatologist Mark Fisher MD FACR at 856-547-8004.