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Temporal arteritis

A rare disease of older people in which the walls of the arteries in the scalp over the temples become inflamed.  Other arteries in the neck and head can also be affected, as can the aorta and its main branches.  The inflamed vessels become narrow, lessening blood flow through them. 


The cause of temporal arteritis is unknown, but it can be associated with polymyalgia rheumaticia.


The most frequent symptom is a severe headache on one or both sides of the head.  The temporal artery (located at the side of the head above the earlobe) can be prominent and the scalp can be tender, particularly over the artery.  In about half of the cases, the ophthalmic arteries supplying the eyes are affected, which can cause sudden blindness if untreated.  Other symptoms include poor appetite and fever.

Diagnosis and treatment

Early reporting of symptoms is vital due to the risk of blindness.  The diagnosis of temporal arteritis is made with blood tests, notably the ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate), which is elevated in temporal arteritis.  In certain cases a biopsy (taking a tissue sample for analysis) of the artery can also be done.

Treatment with a corticosteroid drug often produces a fast alleviation of symptoms and stops visual loss.  Firstly, a high dose is used and then the dose is gradually reduced to the minimum necessary to control inflammation, as assessed by ESR tests.  Corticosteroid treatment needs to be continued until the condition clears up completely, which often arises within two years.

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