"The artery that you can feel pulsating on one side of your temple - the temporal artery - is the classic area where giant cell arteritis (GCA) occurs," says Dr. Joel Ray, a professor of medicine at U of T and a clinician-scientist at St. Michael's Hospital. "Definitive signs of inflammation are found in this tender, red, sore area of the artery. Some people who get GCA have involvement of the arteries that supply the brain, heart or main aorta itself, which can be quite devastating, leading to a stroke or heart attack."
Ray and his colleagues from Toronto's Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, report their findings in the March issue of Heart. They compared individuals with GCA to two control groups without GCA - those with osteoarthritis and those without any arthritic condition. When compared to the former, the risk of cardiovascular disease among GCA patients was 1.6 times higher. Compared to the healthy adults, however, GCA patients had more than a doubling of their risk of cardiovascular disease.
The prevalence of GCA is estimated at one per every 500 seniors. "Nobody knows why this disorder happens," says Ray. "It's quite spontaneous, it doesn't have an obvious genetic, ethnic or classic risk factor description to it. Literally, it's age-related, and often, chronic, requiring years to treat."
The researchers suggest that those who treat seniors with GCA be made aware of their greater risk of cardiovascular disease and that in addition to encouraging a healthy lifestyle, these seniors be considered candidates for aggressive management of other risk factors, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol.