Pain is a big part of living with giant cell arteritis (GCA), a type of vasculitis affecting the temporal, cranial, and other carotid system arteries. You’ll often feel pain in your head, scalp, jaw, and neck.
You don’t have to settle for a life with pain. Treatments are available to manage your GCA.
Medications can bring down inflammation in your body. They can also relieve pain and other symptoms quickly.
Try these 10 tips to help you manage your GCA pain.
If you have any new and unusual pain in your head, face, or other areas of your body, see your doctor. You can start with a visit to your primary care provider.
Your doctor might send you to a rheumatologist or other specialist for testing and treatment. Because the symptoms of GCA are similar to those of other medical conditions, it’s important to get the diagnosis right. Then you can start the right treatment.
It’s also important to start taking your medication as soon as possible. Not only will it relieve your pain, it will also prevent serious complications, like vision loss and stroke.
The main treatment for GCA is high doses of the steroid drug prednisone. When you take it as your doctor prescribes, your pain should start to ease within a day or two.
It’s important to follow your doctor’s instructions and take the exact dose of medication you were prescribed. You’ll likely take prednisone for a year or two to manage your symptoms, but your doctor will gradually lower your dose.
If you stop taking your medication or reduce your dose without your doctor’s OK, your pain could return.
Prednisone is a strong drug. It can cause some unpleasant side effects, including:
- agitation and restlessness
- easy bruising
- difficulty sleeping
- weight gain
- water retention and swelling
- blurred vision
More serious side effects of taking steroid medications in the long term include:
- elevated blood pressure
- cataract formation or glaucoma
- decreased resistance to infection
Report any side effects you have to your doctor. Don’t just stop taking your medication.
There are ways to manage prednisone side effects. Your doctor might lower your dose. They may prescribe another medication to manage certain side effects, like a bisphosphonate to strengthen your bones or a proton pump inhibitor to prevent acid reflux.
Keep a journal of your symptoms. Let your doctor know right away if your pain starts to increase. You may need a dose adjustment, or your doctor may add another drug like tocilizumab (Actemra) to manage inflammation and pain.
Call your doctor or go to an emergency room immediately if you develop serious symptoms, like pain in your jaw or tongue when you eat, or vision changes like double vision.
These symptoms are very serious and are associated with a higher likelihood of developing blindness. You may need intravenous (IV) treatment with steroids to prevent vision loss and other complications.
Ask your doctor if you should take calcium and vitamin D supplements. Weak bones are a side effect of long-term prednisone use. Supplementing these nutrients may help strengthen your bones and prevent a fracture.
Pedaling a stationary bike or even taking a walk might seem impossible when you’re uncomfortable, but exercise is an effective pain reliever.
When you work out, your body releases natural pain-relieving chemicals called endorphins that help you feel better.
Exercise also strengthens your bones and muscles, which helps prevent fractures and takes some of the strain off sore joints. Plus, working out is a potent sleep promoter and stress buster. Both poor sleep and stress can contribute to pain.
The pain from GCA stems from inflammation. Bringing down inflammation with diet is one way to help yourself feel better.
Eat naturally anti-inflammatory foods, like:
- fruits and vegetables
- fatty fish like salmon and tuna
- whole grains
- nuts and seeds
- olive oil and other healthy oils
Avoid or limit anything that can contribute to inflammation, including:
- fried foods
- processed foods
You’ll see your doctor once a month at first, then once every 3 months as your condition stabilizes.
These visits give your doctor a chance to check in with you and see how you’re doing. These appointments are important for your doctor to keep track of your symptoms.
Pain is one of the main symptoms of GCA. It can be severe enough to interfere with your daily life.
Starting on prednisone as soon as possible will help control your pain. Within a few days of taking this medication, you should start to feel a lot better.