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Giant Cell Arteritis Facts

Updated on February 23, 2014
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Carolee is a passionate writer with a love for learning and teaching. She is a published author, poet, blogger, and content creator.


Giant Cell Arteritis

Before I tell you what giant cell arteritis is or the dangers of having this condition I will tell what happened to me.

The pain started very subtly and developed into a throb, but still a dull ache that was constant. I have had this pain before and thought it was just a migraine. I knew that taking painkillers was in-effective so I would always try just to relax and fall asleep hoping the pain would subside. Sometimes I would place an icepack on it and it would feel better.

The pain came back around about May 17. But before the pain came back there was a tenderness on the right side of my head left there from the previous bout of dull ache which was about a month before.

I took some painkillers again hoping this time they would work but to they didn't. By Tuesday May 22, I was so debilitated from the pain that I had to see the doctor at the hospital only to be told that my temporal artery was inflamed which was causing the pain.

My blood pressure had sky-rocketed which triggered the pain. My blood pressure reading was 210/120. That is unacceptable and very dangerous. I was lucky that I didn't have a stroke!

I will explain to you what temporal arteritis is and what causes it.

The temporal artery

The temporal artery is located on each side of the head, which starts at the neck and extends to the temple area just alongside the ear and extends to the crown, and is also known as the superficial temporal artery.

The temporal artery is actually a branch off from the carotid artery which starts at the border of the thyroid cartilage and curves and twists its way up to just behind the neck and jawline. Then it branches off into the superficial temporal and the internal maxillary arteries.

As we know, arteries are blood vessels that transport blood to and from the heart. There are two type of arteries; pulmonary and systemic. The pulmonary artery takes de-oxygenated blood to the lungs where it picks up oxygen and sends it back to the heart via the pulmonary veins. The now oxygenated blood is transported through the systemic arteries around the body.

The temporal artery is a systemic artery and is a part of the artery system which supplies oxygen to the head.

About temporal arteritis aka giant cell arteritis

Temporal arteritis is an inflammation of the temporal artery. In some instances it's also called giant cell arteritis because a build up of cells occur in the large arteries. The inflammation can occur in any of the large arteries so the temporal arteritis is local to the temporal artery.

This condition is very common in people over 50 and rarely affects anyone younger yet in my case it wasn't so. When the cells develop in the artery they can block the transportation of oxygen. This can result in strokes, blindness to the affected side and blood clots.

Temporal arteritis symptoms

  • Headache: This condition brings on a headache. In some cases it may start off as a sharp pain then gradually tone down to be a dull throbbing pain as with my case. It is believed that 2/3 of people with the condition will experience headaches. The pain can be on one side or two sided and is typically at the temple.
  • Tenderness: The tenderness started at the front of my ear and extended to near the crown of my head. Whenever I rested the tenderness would be less and near the ear would be most affected. When I felt the artery I could tell that there was an area that had somewhat of a firm of lumpy feel. That area was most painful and I realized that was where the cells were lodged.
  • Numbness: Occasionally I would feel a sort of weird feeling there, almost like a numbness that would not last. When I did my research I found that some people experienced numbness too, especially if left unchecked.
  • Pain in the jaw: I did not experience this but some people experience pain in the jaw area when eating or talking.
  • Other possible symptoms may include loss of appetite, night sweat, depressions, fever and weight loss.

When you feel this pain it is so debilitating that you can't concentrate on anything and you don't want to eat. You don't sleep well and you toss all night. You definitely can't sleep in the side of the pain even if you are using a soft pillow so you are uncomfortable. All you want to do is lay in bed. Laying down and resting seems to make you feel a little better. Normal painkillers don't work. Try not to touch the area for you will only make the pain worse.


In my case I was given two shots and a tablet to immediately get my blood pressure back to normal. I was prescribed anti-inflammatory painkillers to reduce the inflammation and blood pressure meds which are to be taken every morning after breakfast.

Usually persons with temporal arteritis are placed on a treatment of steriod tablets to help reduce the inflammation but in some cases regular anti-inflammatory drugs are used. Some doctors may also prescribe aspirin along with the steroid because aspirin is known to thin the blood and help reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. When taking steroids and aspirin you are at risk for developing ulcers in the stomach so the doctor may also prescribe another medication that will help to reduce the acid in the stomach.

In most cases a biopsy might be needed for diagnosis or a blood test but the symptoms are so localized and specific that a doctor can often diagnose without the biopsy or blood test.

The risk of having temporal arteritis

  • Stroke: temporal arteritis if left untreated can lead to a stroke. If the artery becomes blocked by the build up of cells, then blood flow and oxygen will stop and the brain will suffer.
  • Blindness: The eyes are supplied with blood and oxygen from these arteries as well and lack of blood flowing to the eye can cause permanent damage leading to permanent vision loss.

When other arteries become affected due to this condition.

  • Heart attack
  • Aneurysms
  • Stroke
  • Deafness
  • Nerve damage

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned above please seek medical attention immediately. Leaving temporal arteritis unchecked could be dangerous.



Talk to Your Health Care Provider

This article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You take full legal responsibility for whatever decisions you make regarding your own health care. Consult your health care provider.

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