Temporal arteritis causes pain and swelling in the arteries of the head and neck. There is no clear cause and no true cure, but fast medical treatment can help prevent serious complications.
This disease is a type of vasculitis, causing inflamed blood vessels that may make it hard for enough blood to get through. It may be an autoimmune condition. Thankfully, there are some natural ways for you to manage your temporal arteritis symptoms in addition to medication.
What Is Temporal Arteritis?
Temporal arteritis is inflammation of the arteries in the head and neck. In most cases, the arteries that pass through the temples are affected, hence the name. The condition is also called giant cell arteritis (GCA), Horton disease and cranial arteritis. In some cases, medium and large arteries in the shoulders, arms and other parts of the body are also affected.
The condition causes swelling and damage in the blood vessels, making it hard for blood to pass through to the brain and other parts of the body. This can cause serious health problems, such as blindness and stroke.
Temporal arteritis diagnosis should not be done on your own, since it shares symptoms with many other conditions. You should see a healthcare professional if you have any symptoms of temporal arteritis.
Thankfully, certain tests can help distinguish between this disease and many problems that cause similar symptoms, such as migraines. You can expect a physical exam, blood tests, an ultrasound and a temporal artery biopsy to get a diagnosis. MRIs can also detect temporal arteritis. (1)
Temporal Arteritis Signs & Symptoms
Temporal arteritis symptoms can be different from person to person. In most cases, however, the condition causes some of the following symptoms:
- Tenderness or pain in the scalp, temples or neck
- Heat or swelling of the scalp, temples or neck
- Throbbing headaches in the temples or back of the head
- Changes in vision, such as seeing double or losing vision completely
- Flu-like symptoms, such as loss of appetite, feeling tired or weak, and having a fever
- Dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
- Pain in the jaw or tongue, especially when chewing or opening wide
- Pain or stiffness in the shoulders, neck or hips — these may actually be polymyalgia rheumatica symptoms, which affect about half of all people with temporal arteritis
Temporal Arteritis Causes & Risk Factors
The exact cause of temporal arteritis is unknown. It is possibly linked with the body’s immune system health. In rare cases, it has been linked to having certain severe infections or taking high doses of antibiotics. (2)
- Being 50 or older
- Being a woman
- Having a low body mass index (BMI)
- Starting menopause before age 43
- Having polymyalgia rheumatica
- Being of northern European or Scandinavian descent
- Having a family history of the condition
- Smoking or being an ex-smoker
Conventional Treatment of Temporal Arteritis
As soon as a doctor suspects you have temporal arteritis, you will likely be given a high dose of steroids. Afterwards, you will be prescribed a lower dose of steroids that you may take for several months to a year or more, until your symptoms go away. This helps fight the inflammation and may prevent further damage to your blood vessels.
You must continue taking steroids for as long as your healthcare provider says, since the medicine helps prevent serious complications including vision loss, stroke and death. Once your symptoms are gone, your dose may be gradually lowered. In some people, the condition does not return. Others experience symptoms when they stop the medication and must begin treatment again.
Depending on your overall health or the particular type of steroid you take, you may also be prescribed:
- Drugs … to suppress your immune system
- Aspirin … to thin your blood and allow it to pass more easily through your narrowed arteries
- Anti-osteoporosis treatments … to fight the side effects of some temporal arteritis medications
- A proton-pump inhibitor … to fight gastrointestinal side effects of aspirin or similar drugs
6 Natural Remedies for Temporal Arteritis Symptoms
Temporal arteritis treatment can improve blood vessel health. However, medications can create their own problems. Thankfully, there are natural ways you may be able to improve your overall health, manage symptoms and fight drug side effects if you have temporal arteritis.
1. Exercise and eat well
Temporal arteritis is a condition that affects the blood vessels and the ability of your blood to pass through those vessels. Exercise can help fight many side effects from temporal arteritis medications. It can also improve your underlying health.
Likewise, a healthy diet can replace the nutrients you may lose due to your medications. It can also support your health and may even fight inflammation.
Tips to help naturally protect or improve your blood vessels include:
- Start slowly with exercise. Some people find their temporal arteritis causes pain or stiffness when they are active. Speak to your doctor about the best exercise program for you.
- Do aerobic exercise. This gets you out of breath a bit. Walking and swimming are low-impact exercises that can improve your bone and blood vessel health, keep blood pressure in a healthier range, control blood sugar levels and help your heart and lungs stay healthy. You may also find that it improves your mood.
- Follow a heart–friendly diet. You can follow the DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension). Alternatively, you can work to build a general diet that supports heart health. The American Heart Association recommends that an overall diet should focus on: (5)
- A variety of vegetables and fruits
- Low-fat dairy
- Lean protein, such as poultry with no skin and fish
- Nuts, legumes and whole grains
- Vegetable (not coconut) oils
- Limited red meat, sweets, trans and saturated fats and sugary drinks
- Limit alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can negatively impact heart and blood vessel health. It can also interact with some medications used for temporal arteritis, such as methotrexate, leflunomide and azathioprine. (6) Alcohol can also speed up bone loss, which can also be a side effect of steroids used to treat temporal arteritis.
2. Stop smoking
Smoking and even being a former smoker increase the risk of developing temporal arteritis. (4) However, when you quit smoking, your blood vessel health improves quickly. (7) You can try mind-body strategies to quit smoking on your own. You can also get professional help or follow a program to break the habit. Whatever you do, kicking tobacco for good has immediate and long-term benefits for your vascular health.
3. Protect your bones
Long-term steroid use can cause weak bones. Fight osteoporosis naturally by exercising and:
- Eating for bone health. Calcium, vitamin D, magnesium, potassium and vitamin K are some of the key nutrients for building and maintaining strong bones. You can find these nutrients in fortified foods as well as: (8)
- Low-fat dairy products
- Canned, bone-in fish
- Fatty fish such as tuna and salmon
- Leafy greens
- Tomatoes, artichokes, potatoes
- Dried fruit such as raisins and prunes
- Papaya, pineapple, citrus fruits, berries, bell peppers and Brussels sprouts
- Avoid bone enemies. These include alcohol, caffeine and soft drinks.
- Taking calcium and vitamin D supplements. The Mayo Clinic suggests 1,200 mg of calcium and 800 IU of vitamin D per day for women 50 and older and men 70 and older. However, your doctor may think a different dose is appropriate for you. Always check with a healthcare professional before beginning or changing a supplement. (9)
- Asking about additional bone-friendly supplements. If you struggle to get enough bone-supporting nutrients from your diet, ask a healthcare professional about magnesium, vitamin K, zinc, potassium and other supplements that may be good for your bones.
4. Avoid getting sick
Some medications for temporal arteritis weaken your immune system. To avoid getting ill more often, try some of these tips:
- Follow hygiene recommendations. These include washing your hands before you prepare your food or eat. You should also:
- Wash your hands after using the bathroom, shaking hands or being in public spaces.
- Avoid being in close proximity with people who have contagious illnesses or coughs.
- Clean key germ areas regularly. These include keyboards and computer mouses, doorknobs, faucet handles, light switches and other areas hands frequently touch.
- Ask about supplements to boost your immune system.Use supplements like echinacea, elderberry, colloidal silver, ginger, vitamin D and more. However, note that certain immune-boosting herbs and supplements can thin your blood, impact your blood vessels or interact with medications. Always check with your doctor before beginning a new supplement for your immune health.
- Be smart about fighting or preventing illness. There are ways you can avoid illness and recover faster.
- If you are warned by someone that they are sick, thank them and avoid close contact.
- Avoid shopping or going out at times of peak illness or high crowds. The more people around who may be out and about with the flu, for example, the more likely you are to come down with something.
- Rest and stay home when you are ill. Getting enough sleep allows you to recuperate faster. By staying home from work while you are ill, you not only protect others but you also help avoid getting another infection while you are fighting off the first.
5. Work to reduce inflammation
Inflammation plays an important role in temporal arteritis, as it does in many other vascular health problems and pain conditions. The Cleveland Clinic suggests the following dietary strategies to fight inflammation and improve your health: (09)
- Eat these:
- Whole fruits and vegetables
- Colorful fruits and vegetables (variety is key!)
- Whole-grain starches
- Skinless poultry, eggs, fish, beans and legumes
- Omega-3-rich foods, such as salmon, tuna, nuts, olive oil, avocados and ground flaxseed
- Limit these foods:
- High-fat meats such as bacon, sausage and steak
- Processed meats
- Foods high in saturated fat, such as butter, full-fat dairy, cheese, red meat and skin-on poultry
- Refined starches such as white rice and white bread
- Added sugars and sweetened foods or drinks
- Trans fat (avoid this altogether), found in prepackaged baked goods, chocolate- and yogurt-covered snacks and flavored coffee creamer
- Consider these supplements to help fight inflammation, after consulting your doctor:
- Turmeric or curcumin, which you can take as a supplement or add as a spice on your food
- Vitamins A and C, which can help healing
- Copper, which also helps with injury recovery
- Garlic, either through cooking with two to four cloves a day or by taking 600 to 1,200 milligrams per day of extract
- Bromelain, which can be found in a glass of 100 percent pineapple juice
- Zinc, which helps you heal your tissue damage
6. Ease headaches
Once temporal arteritis is diagnosed, medical treatment should be started immediately. Most people notice a major improvement in their symptoms after just a few days.
If you do have a headache caused by diagnosed temporal arteritis, you may have throbbing, swelling, pain, heat, tenderness, vision changes or dizziness as well. Keep pain in check using these natural headache remedies until your steroids start working:
- Try aromatherapy. Lavender and peppermint oil inhalation may relieve headache pain. Try mixing it with a bit of carrier oil and rubbing it into your temples, rubbing it into your palms and then cupping them over your face, or putting them in a diffuser.
- Ask about magnesium and the B vitamins. Several studies have found these supplements may reduce pain and ease headaches. However, they may also change your blood clotting ability or how open your blood vessels are. Be sure to ask your doctor about these prior to taking them for a headache.
- Consider traditional Chinese medicine. Some research has found a combination of acupuncture and herbal remedies to be effective at treating vascular headaches. Just as with other herbs and supplements, however, Chinese decoctions can interact with medication or cause side effects. Be sure to speak with your doctor prior to use. (10)
- Avoid headache triggers. Even though your primary head pain may be caused by the inflamed blood vessels in your temples or neck, you may be able to avoid some headache pain by avoiding common triggers. These can include alcohol, caffeine, chocolate, cheese, overuse of certain medications, stress or anxiety. Other top triggers include bright lights or loud sounds, strong odors, changes in weather, dehydration or hunger, lack of sleep, too much activity, food additives or hormonal changes. (11) Temporal headache may be further aggravated by headaches caused by other problems or triggers.
- Do not attempt to manage temporal arteritis without the guidance of a healthcare professional. Without medical treatment, the disease can be deadly or result in permanent disability from brain aneurysms or stroke.
- Temporal arteritis symptoms resemble those of many other conditions. Do not try to self-diagnose. See a healthcare professional urgently if you have any symptoms of temporal arteritis.
- Do not stop taking your medications without the guidance of a physician. Quitting steroids and other medications suddenly can make you very ill.
- Herbs and supplements can interact with medications and cause their own side effects. Before starting or stopping a natural remedy, speak with your doctor.
Key Points About Temporal Arteritis
- Temporal arteritis, also known as giant cell arteritis, is one of the most common vascular conditions. It causes pain, swelling and narrowing of medium-to-large arteries. The affected arteries are usually in the temples, head, neck and upper body.
- Symptoms of temporal arteritis include temporal headache or throbbing head pain; pain or tenderness of the scalp, temples or neck; fatigue or fever; jaw pain or lack of appetite; and pain or stiffness in the neck, shoulders and hips.
- The condition has no known cause, but is thought to be linked to immune function. Women, those over age 50, and people of northern European descent are most at risk for the condition.
- Temporal arteritis treatment usually involves a high dose of steroids, followed by a lower dose of steroids until symptoms go away. Some people may be prescribed other drugs to help manage related conditions.
- When caught early, the prognosis for temporal arteritis is very good. Many complications can be avoided with medication. When not treated soon enough, the condition can lead to blindness, stroke or brain aneurysm, which can be deadly or debilitating.
Natural ways to manage temporal arteritis symptoms include:
- Stopping smoking
- Protecting your bones
- Avoiding getting sick
- Reducing inflammation
- Treating headaches
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