What Is Arteritis?
Arteritis refers to inflammation of your arteries that damages your blood vessel walls and reduces blood flow to your organs. There are several types of arteritis. The symptoms and complications that occur depend on which arteries are affected and the degree of damage.
You can develop several types of arteritis. Each has unique symptoms and potential complications, depending on which arteries are involved.
Takeyasu’s arteritis, also known as aortic arch syndrome or nonspecific aortoarteritis, predominately affects young to middle-aged females of Asian descent. The disease is characterized by inflammation of the walls of your aorta and its upper branches. This causes fibrosis or scarring.
If you have this condition, the walls of your aorta grow thicker over time. The progressive narrowing of the upper and lower branches of your aorta leads to insufficient blood and oxygen supply to the rest of your body. Destruction of the main branches of the aorta may leave you with little or no upper body pulse.
Takeyasu’s arteritis can lead to:
- a loss of vision
- cardiac disease
- joint pain
- muscle pain
- a fever
- night sweats
- weight loss
Progressive weakness of your artery wall results in aortic aneurysms, essentially blisters of the walls of the blood vessels, to form. Rupture of these aneurysms can lead to death. Takeyasu’s arteritis cannot be cured but can be managed to a certain extent with immunosuppressant medications.
Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA)
Giant cell arteritis (GCA), or temporal arteritis, is an inflammation of your superficial temporal artery and the other arteries supplying blood to your head, eyes, and jaw. GCA is mostly seen in women over the age of 50. It’s also more common in women of northern European heritage.
GCA generally starts out with flu-like symptoms. These can include:
- a severe headache
- a fever
- a loss of appetite
- a general feeling of malaise
Your affected arteries, especially the arteries at the side of your head, may be tender to the touch. As your blood vessels become increasingly inflamed, blood flow to your facial nerves, optic nerves, or jaw can become disrupted. This can result in vision loss, jaw pain, scalp pain, and other symptoms.
The greatest risk with GCA is vision loss, which can happen when your ocular arteries are blocked. GCA is rarely fatal. However, immediate treatment with corticosteroids is needed to prevent permanent blindness.
Polyarteritis Nodosa (PN)
Polyarteritis nodosa (PN) is also known as Kussmaul disease, Kussmaul-Maier disease, or infantile polyarteritis nodosa. It’s an inflammation of the medium and smaller arteries that carry blood from your heart to your organs and tissues. The symptoms vary, depending on which blood vessels are involved. In most cases, the cause is unknown. PN occurs mostly in men between the ages of 30 and 49. It also occurs occasionally in people with chronic hepatitis B.
Because so many blood vessels can be involved, the symptoms and effects of PN are quite varied. Like other forms of arteritis, PN often begins with a cluster of flu-like symptoms. These can include:
- a headache
- a fever
- muscle aches
- joint aches
- a loss of appetite
Your skin may also break out in rashes and sores that may look like bruises.
When your central nervous system is involved, you may experience one or more of the following in your hands or feet:
When your kidneys are involved, you may develop renal failure, high blood pressure, and edema. Heart attacks, heart failure, or pericarditis, which is an inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart, can occur when the arteries to your heart are afflicted with this disease.
PN can be brought under control with drugs that suppress your immune system. However, you’ll be at high risk of relapse in the future. If it isn’t treated, this disease is usually fatal.
No one knows what causes arteritis. It’s believed to be an autoimmune disorder. Your immune cells attack the walls of your major blood vessels, causing varying degrees of damage. The immune bodies inside your blood vessels form nodules called granulomas that block blood flow to other parts of your body. The interior cells of your blood vessels may be weakened, making them prone to aneurysms. Aneurysms can rupture and cause internal bleeding.
These diseases may lead to a loss of blood and oxygen to your internal organs. Impaired blood flow to your body organs can cause blindness, heart failure, or kidney failure, depending on which arteries are involved. Rapid treatment is necessary to prevent organ damage from arteritis.
Your doctor can diagnose arteritis by doing the following:
- performing a physical exam
- asking you about your medical history
- performing lab tests
- performing imaging tests
- performing biopsies of your affected blood vessels
Your doctor will take a detailed patient history, which may include:
- your race
- your age
- your gender
- the pattern of your early symptoms and later symptoms
They’ll also perform a visual examination of the parts of your body that are affected.
Your doctor may also order lab tests, such as:
- an erythrocyte sedimentation rate test to detect inflammation
- a C-reactive protein test to detect inflammation
- a complete blood count to detect signs of infection and anemia
- a liver function test to detect alkaline phosphatase, which is commonly found to be elevated in people who have arteritis
Your doctor may order one or more of the following imaging tests to assess the condition of your arteries, the degree of blockage, and whether aneurysms are present:
- CT scans
- MRI scans
Your doctor may need to perform a biopsy of your blood vessels to examine the condition of the cell walls.
The treatment of arteritis focuses first on suppressing your immune reaction. To do this, your doctor will prescribe corticosteroids, such as prednisone, or other drugs that suppress your immune system. Your doctor can bring secondary infections under control using antibiotics. Finally, if any of your organs has been damaged, you may need surgery to restore them to a healthier state.
Most people make a recovery from arteritis. However, it’s possible that treatment may take a year or two. If you’ve experienced organ damage, it can affect your treatment needs and outlook. Speak with your doctor to learn more about your particular condition and long-term outlook.
If you’ve experienced arteritis in the past, you may be at higher risk of experiencing it again. Be on the lookout for recurring symptoms. Seek treatment early to lower your risk of organ damage.