When a stiff jaw means you are losing your sight

Are you experiencing a stiff jaw when chewing, very tender scalp or temples, painful headaches and episodes of sudden blurry vision?

These are key symptoms of giant cell arteritis (GCA), an inflammation of the arteries that supply the head. This blocks the blood supply to the optic nerve and can cause permanent blindness.

For the elderly, GCA is the most common cause of acute blindness in the UK and can develop rapidly, causing complete sight loss in days. Of those affected by GCA, around a quarter, about 3,200 people a year, have partial irreversible sight loss or go completely blind.

With the right treatment at the right time their sight would almost certainly have been saved.

For GCA patients who lose sight it takes an average of nearly two months between the first symptoms occurring and treatment. Much of the delay is caused by the sufferer not realising that sudden blurred vision and severe head and jaw pain need urgent treatment. If you have any of the symptoms mentioned above you should see your doctor immediately.

GCA is related to polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR), an inflammatory illness that causes severe pain and stiffness in the muscles, affecting one in 2000 of the over-50s. Around a fifth of them will develop GCA.

The first charity in the UK for PMR and GCA was set up by Jean Miller of Broughty Ferry in 2007. PMR-GCA Scotland campaigns on behalf of people with both GCA and PMR, supporting research and running a helpline for those who have symptoms or queries about either illness.

For more information, phone 0300 777 5090, email info.scotland@pmrandgca.org.uk or go to www.pmrandgca.org.uk

Bea Nicholson

(chair, PMR-GCA Scotland)