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What is Takayasu Arteritis?

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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2016
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Takayasu arteritis refers to inflammation of major arteries in the chest, especially the aorta. It is an uncommon condition, primarily afflicting women between the ages of 10 and 30. Doctors do not fully understand what causes aortic inflammation to occur, though research suggests that Takayasu arteritis may be an inherited autoimmune disorder. When the condition is discovered early, doctors can usually reduce inflammation with medications or surgical stenting. A severe or undiagnosed case can lead to permanent scarring, heart attack, or stroke.

The aorta and its branches supply the body with fresh blood. In the case of Takayasu arteritis, blood flow is restricted due to irritation, inflammation, and scarring of arterial tissue. The body's immune system appears to initiate the inflammation, as it mistakenly attacks otherwise healthy tissue. Takayasu arteritis is most common among young women in Asian populations, though it can potentially afflict anyone. Since medical professionals are unsure of the causes, other risk factors have not been identified.

A person who has the condition is likely to experience flu-like symptoms at first, such as joint pain, fever, and fatigue. As inflammation worsens, an individual might notice chest pains, headaches, and significant weakness. If Takayasu is left untreated, it can lead to potentially life-threatening blood clots and high blood pressure. Depending on the location and severity of a clot, a person may be at risk of a stroke, heart attack, or respiratory failure.

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Since the symptoms associated with Takayasu arteritis are similar to those found with many other diseases, doctors do not always make accurate diagnoses right away. A specialist can usually differentiate the condition by conducting diagnostic imaging tests. Angiographies and computerized tomography scans can reveal disrupted blood flow and inflammation in the major chest arteries. If findings are inconclusive, the doctor may decide to extract a tiny sample of aortic tissue for laboratory analysis.

Doctors base treatment measures on the stage and severity of Takayasu arteritis. Mild cases can often be cured with corticosteroids, drugs that help to stop the immune system's inflammatory response. Surgery is necessary if the condition severely restricts blood flow. The most common procedure involves widening the affected artery and inserting a wire stent to hold the walls apart. Most patients who receive treatment for Takayasu artertis recover within a few months, though the condition can occasionally return months or even years later. Follow-up doctor visits are important to monitor recovery and prevent future complications.

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