Why You Need to Know about Giant Cell Arteritis
Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is also known as temporal arteritis, and it is the most common type of vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels). It’s a fairly uncommon disease, affecting only 24 in 100,000 people, but it is a serious condition. The danger of GCA is that symptoms can easily be overlooked in the early stages, and unfortunately, it can lead to blindness or even a stroke. And since early diagnosis and treatment is the only way to avoid vision loss, it makes sense to be aware of the symptoms and take action when necessary.
Giant cell arteritis is caused by the progressive inflammation of the arterial lining, and although it can affect all of the arteries in your body, it most commonly affects the arteries in the head, and most specifically, the arteries in your temples.
GCA often masquerades as other diseases, which makes getting regular eye exams at your local Kelowna optometrist and medical checkups vitally important. If it is left untreated it can lead to severe vision loss in one or both eyes, and eventually, blindness. However, with early diagnosis and treatment, vision loss is preventable.
GCA mostly affects people over the age of 50, and more women than men. But there are a few other factors that may increase the risk of developing GCA. For instance, it is more common among Caucasian people in Northern Europe; anyone diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica are at risk of developing GCA, and this condition has also been found to run in families.
What Are the Symptoms of GCA?
Although the direct cause of giant cell arteritis is unknown, it affects the body like an autoimmune disease. The body’s immune system attacks the blood vessels in the arteries causing inflammation. The inflammation then stops a healthy flow of blood, nutrients, and oxygen, which impairs function.
The symptoms of giant cell arteritis include:
- A persistent and severe headache, usually located in the temples
- Tender spots on the scalp
- A pain in the jaw when you chew or yawn
- Flu-like fever and fatigue
- Double vision
- Sudden loss of vision in one eye
- A persistent sore throat
- Occasional chest pains
If you have already suffered some loss of vision from giant cell arteritis, your vision will stabilize once you begin treatment, but, unfortunately, lost vision is permanent and cannot be recovered. And this is why we stress the importance of regular eye exams with your Kelowna eye doctor.
Giant Cell Arteritis Diagnosis and Treatment
Signs of giant cell arteritis are swollen, lumpy or tender arteries on the temple, but to diagnose giant cell arteritis a doctor will need to perform a series of tests, including:
- A blood test to show if there is inflammation in the body.
- A blood count to test for anemia
- A temporal artery biopsy to check for inflammation in the arteries
If giant cell arteritis is diagnosed or even suspected, you will be prescribed a steroid treatment immediately. Emergency treatment will prevent sight loss and possibly a stroke or heart attack. The symptoms will disappear quickly once you begin treatment, but you may have to take steroid tablets for one or two years to make sure the inflammation is reduced. The dosage of steroids will slowly be reduced, but even after symptoms are relieved, the low dose therapy is recommended to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Looking after your health is a number one priority, and because each part of our body is connected to another, the health of your eyes may indicate a disease or illness in another area of your body.
Regular eye exams can help detect any abnormalities that could be an indication of a more serious illness. So take the time to look after yourself, and make sure you schedule an eye exam every two years. Your eyes have served you well for years, and they will serve you for many more years to come, if you look after them. So eat well, sleep well and exercise often, and make sure you book a regular check up.