Understanding Stress and Temporal Arteritis

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Chronic stress puts your body through significant physical and psychological changes. Many people often underestimate the ability of stress to trigger several physical and mental health conditions. One such condition is temporal arteritis or giant cell arteritis.

Temporal arteritis is a condition that causes your temporal arteries, which are the blood vessels that supply blood from your heart to your temple, to become inflamed or narrowed.

This condition is a form of vasculitis, which are conditions that cause inflammation of your blood vessels. Common symptoms of this condition include persistent headaches, fever, scalp tenderness, jaw pain, vision problems, and weight loss.

While the primary blood vessels affected by this condition are your temporal arteries, other blood vessels, such as your posterior ciliary arteries, can be affected. Damage to these blood vessels can cause blindness. 

The Connection Between Stress and Temporal Arteritis 

Research into the connection between stress and temporal arteritis reveals that stress can contribute to the development of the condition.

In a small study on the effect of stressful events on the development of temporal arteritis and/or polymyalgia rheumatica, researchers found that stressful events can influence the development of both conditions. In the study, the researchers observed that patients with both conditions had lived through significant adverse events two years before their diagnosis.

Complications of Stress and Temporal Arteritis 

Early diagnosis of temporal arteritis is crucial to avoid complications. Complications that can arise when this condition goes untreated include losing eyesight, an aneurysm, and a stroke.  

As mentioned, stress can contribute to the development of temporal arteritis. Stress can increase the risk of a flare-up occurring in people who already have the condition but have it under control.

Diagnosis of Stress and Temporal Arteritis 

In some cases, stress can cause physical symptoms, which can help your doctor recognize that you are stressed. These symptoms include elevated blood pressure, difficulty breathing, fatigue, chest pain, and sleep difficulties.

Meanwhile, several tests are used to diagnose temporal arteritis. After performing a physical exam to check for scalp swelling or tenderness, your doctor will likely order blood tests to measure the inflammation levels in your body.

A biopsy to remove a small piece of the temporal artery may be conducted to confirm a diagnosis of temporal arteritis. The piece will then be examined for any evidence of inflammation. 

Treatment of Stress and Temporal Arteritis 

Unfortunately, there’s currently no cure for temporal arteritis. The condition is managed with a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. 

Medication

Glucocorticoids such as prednisone were typically the first line of medical treatment for temporal arteritis. They are administered to alleviate the inflammation caused by the condition, relieving symptoms. While some people may only need to be on steroids, severe cases of the condition could cause a lifelong need for steroids. Unfortunately, long-term use of steroids can cause bothersome side effects.

In 2017, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Actemra (tocilizumab) for treating temporal arteritis. The emergence of Actemra helped people with this condition avoid the bothersome side effects brought on by extended use and high doses of steroids. It also ensured you remained in remission for sustained periods.

Lifestyle Changes 

Quitting unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessively drinking alcohol is critical for the effective treatment of both stress and temporal arteritis. 

Coping with Stress and Temporal Arteritis 

Managing your stress levels goes a long way in helping you cope with many stress-related conditions. Some of the best ways to manage stress are:

  • Eliminating stressors: Getting rid of the stressors in your control is the first step to managing stress. For instance, if a long commute to work is causing stress, consider moving closer to your workplace.
  • Adopting healthy habits: It’s easy to neglect your well-being when stressed. However, prioritizing healthy habits such as exercising and eating nutritious meals is great for your general well-being and can also help reduce stress levels. 
  • Creating time to relax: Carving out time to unwind when stressed is vital. Engaging in activities you enjoy, like hobbies such as reading or knitting, can help you reduce your stress levels. 
  • Avoiding harmful habits: Stress can trigger you to develop unhealthy habits such as drinking alcohol excessively or smoking. These habits only give very short-term relief from stress and cause long-term complications, which will only add to your stress. 

Summary 

There’s an established connection between stress and the development of temporal arteritis. When left undiagnosed and untreated, the latter condition can result in complications such as blindness, aneurysm, and stroke. Maintaining healthy stress levels isn’t just vital to optimal well-being. It can also help prevent the condition from developing in some instances. 

A Word from Verywell 

The good news is that temporal arteritis is rare, affecting about five in ten thousand people. If it does occur, early treatment and intervention can prevent any complications. The condition can also be prevented. In cases where it’s stress-induced, managing your stress levels may go a long way in helping to prevent the condition from developing. 

One of the early signs of temporal arteritis is a lingering headache. If you’ve been living with chronic stress and suddenly develop a persistent headache, it may be a sign of temporal arteritis or other stress-related conditions. Contact your healthcare provider for a definite diagnosis and to get started on an appropriate treatment plan.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cleveland Clinic. Temporal arteritis: treatment, symptoms & diagnosis. January 28, 2019

  2. Cénac A, Sparfel A, Amiel-Lebigre F, et al. [Effect of stressful life events on clinical development of temporal arteritis and/or polymyalgia rheumatica]. Presse Med. 2002;31(19):873-879.

  3. Golemati CV, Mavragani CP, Lionaki S, Karaiskos D, Moutsopoulos HM. Stress and Disease Onset in Antineutrophil Cytoplasmic Antibody-Associated Vasculitis. Front Psychiatry. 2017 Dec 15;8:286. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2017.00286

  4. Vasculitis Foundation. Giant cell arteritis(Temporal arteritis).

  5. FDA. FDA approves first drug to specifically treat giant cell arteritis.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coping with stress. November 30, 2021

By Toketemu Ohwovoriole
Toketemu has been multimedia storyteller for the last four years. Her expertise focuses primarily on mental wellness and women’s health topics.