Spotting the illness that can cause sudden blindness – BBC News

    Image copyright iStock

    Every year in the UK, 3,000 people’s sight is was affected by a condition called giant cell arteritis. The symptoms can seem very suddenly and objective in irreversible blindness. Dr Saleyha Ahsan met a group of people who’ve been affected and explains what to look out for.

    “My mother in statute lost a lot of weight, she was very low mood, very painful scalp, jaw ache – and when I say painful scalp, brushing her hair became impossible, ” says Amanda Bartlett.

    “Within the four hours that we were in eye casualty, towards the end she reached round her chair and grabbed my hand and said ‘Amanda, I can’t see anything.’ And she lost her sight that afternoon.”

    Another woman tells me she felt “jaw ache, neck aching, earache and painful shoulders”. It culminated in a “sort of flash in one eye, and I actually lost the sight in this eye for about three minutes”.

    Image copyright Science Photo Library Image caption Section of a temporal artery was affected by GCA

    At first, some people mistake the symptoms for a migraine – one describes it as “a cap of pain like my brain was being squeezed”.

    But these are all classic signs of giant cell arteritis( GCA ). It occurs when arteries in the head and neck become inflamed and giant cells amas in the artery walls.

    One of the arteries usually affected offer blood to the optic nerve, which transmits information from the retina to the brain. Blocking the nerve and starving it of blood can cause permanent blindness.

    The window of therapy is small – in some cases, sight can be lost within days or even hours. The only thing that can save it is immediate therapy with steroids.

    Red flags:

    Severe, often sudden headaches not relieved by painkillers – they tend to affect one side of the head or temples Tenderness to the head and scalp – brushing hair can be painful Swollen temporal arteries visible to the naked eye Jaw pain especially when talking and chewing Vision problems including doubled vision, blurred vision and sight loss in one or both eyes Image caption A healthy artery on the left and one affected by GCA on the right Image caption Dr Saleyah Ahsan, Prof Bhaskar Dasgupta and Roger Keay


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