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What is giant cell arteritis or temporal arteritis?

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Quick Answer

Giant cell arteritis, previously known as temporal arteritis, is a disease in which the immune system harmfully targets the temporal arteries and other blood vessels, according to the John Hopkins Vasculitis Center. The reasons behind why and when these blood vessels are attacked is unknown.

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Full Answer

When the immune system attacks primarily the arteries and blood vessels in the head, they become inflamed, states Mayo Clinic. In turn, the vessel swells and sometimes restricts blood flow. This sometimes results in aching muscles in the shoulder and hip areas, headaches and blurred vision. It can also manifest in the forms of fever, increased scalp sensitivity and jaw pain.

Although symptoms can vary and direct causes are unidentified, the disease has been linked with aging, gender, and being of Northern European descent, indicates Mayo Clinic. Specifically, women and Scandinavian people experience a higher risk of developing the disease. Additionally, 15 percent of people who have been diagnosed with polymyalgia rheumatica also have giant cell arteritis.

The likeliness of the presence of giant cell arteritis can be determined with an erythrocyte sedimentation rate test, claims the John Hopkins Vasculitis Center. This test detects whether or not there is inflammation in the body. The issue is finally, safely and mostly painlessly diagnosed with a biopsy of the temporal artery, but because this is not always conclusive, a biopsy of the opposing temporal artery may be necessary.

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