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What is Cranial Arteritis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 19 September 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
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    Conjecture Corporation
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Cranial arteritis is an inflammatory condition involving the vessels that supply blood to the head. It is also known as temporal arteritis, as the temporal artery is often involved, and may be referred to as giant cell arteritis. This condition carries a risk of vision loss and stroke, and requires medical treatment. With treatment, it often resolves and patients may not experience any additional problems.

The cause of cranial arteritis appears to be related to the immune system and may be the result of autoimmune disease or an inappropriate immune response. In patients with this condition, the lining of the blood vessels becomes degraded. The vessels carry less blood, and the patient can experience symptoms like fever, ulcers in the mouth, stiffening of the joints, weight loss, jaw pain, vision problems, and sweating. The veins around the head may appear enlarged and the blood pressure goes down.

Treatment for cranial arteritis involves administration of steroids to mediate the immune response, sometimes paired with immunosuppressive drugs to keep the patient's immune system at bay. Further damage will be prevented with this treatment, and if provided early, it will give the blood vessels time to recover. Large to medium blood vessels are usually involved and over time, the appearance of swollen vessels should recede, and the patient will experience a resolution of symptoms.

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If cranial arteritis is not treated, there is a chance of stroke. Damaged vessels could rupture or develop occlusions, blocking the flow of blood and causing brain damage and related problems. In addition, the vision is very sensitive to interruptions in blood supply and patients with this condition can develop blindness in one or both eyes. People with cranial arteritis who notice vision changes or experience symptoms like confusion, memory loss, loss of coordination, and other neurological signs should seek medical attention, as it is possible they may have developed complications.

This condition is primarily seen in older adults, usually people over 70, although young people can sometimes get cranial arteritis. There are no known risk factors or steps people can take to prevent this disease, although staying active can keep the body in generally good physical condition and help people avoid some medical issues, including issues that might lead to inflammation of the blood vessels in the head and neck. It is advisable to receive regular medical evaluations with age, to catch conditions associated with aging early, before they have a chance to cause complications.

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