Cranial Arteritis – What It is and Diagnosis

Cranial Arteritis – What It is and Diagnosis
Cranial Arteritis – What It is and Diagnosis

Cranial arteritis is a term used rarely. The disease is most often called GCA (Giant-Cell Arteritis) or temporal arteritis. The term refers to an inflammation of the blood vessels in the head especially the branches of the external carotid artery.

Basically it’s a form of vasculitis that usually causes inflammation of the small vessels that supply the larger arteries. Arteries of the head and neck are affected most often including the axillary arteries, the thoracic aorta and the vertebral arteries.

The occlusion of the ophthalmic artery is the most serious complication and it can cause blindness and irreversible ischema if it is not treated immediately. The exact cause of the condition is still unknown. Scientists believe it is due to a faulty immune response. The use of high large amounts of antibiotics and severe infections were linked to the disorder. The condition may spread following polymyalgia rheumatic. The GCA is rare in African descendants and almost always appears in people over age 50.

The Signs and Symptoms Might Include:

Headache,Fever, bruits, tongue and jaw claudication, tenderness and sensitivity to the scalp, acute tinnitus, reduced visual acuity and diplopia.

In 50% of the case the disorder coexists with polymyalgia rheumatica characterized by stiffness and pain in the muscles.

For a correct diagnosis the doctor will examine the head of the patient and if the patient has GCA there will be thick tender artery on one side of the head, most often over the temples. Also the scalp usually is sensitive. Then blood tests are used and might include hematocrit or hemoglobin, C-creative protein, liver function test and sedimentation rate. Because blood tests alone won’t be enough for a diagnosis a tissues sample from the artery involved will be necessary too. Other tests might include MRI, duplex ultrasound and PET scan.

Receiving the treatment immediately is crucial to preventing severe complications and problems like stroke or blindness. Corticosteroids are administered orally, most often even before biopsy. Often aspirin is recommended. Usually there is improvement a few days after the treatment start. But the treatment might require medicine to be taken for 1 to 2 years. And the doses of corticosteroids will be cut back really slow.

Because of the long-term treatment with corticosteroids the bones might get frailer and the chance of fracture will increase. Therefore taking calcium and D vitamin supplements is often recommended. Also patients should quit smoking and the bones will be examined with a DEXA scan or a BMD (bone mineral density) test. Other medicine that suppresses the immune system might also be used.

After a long treatment of 1 to 2 years long, most of the people recover completely. Unfortunately the condition might return later. Aneurysm or other damage in the blood vessels might also occur and in the future that damage could cause a stroke.

Any symptom of temporal arteritis or throbbing ache should be taken seriously as a warning sign and a specialist should be consulted immediately or else permanent visual impairment might occur. The specialist assistance of a neurologist could help the patient understand the condition better.

So far there is no method of preventing this condition.