Takayasu's arteritis (tah-kah-YAH-sooz ahr-tuh-RIE-tis) is a rare type of vasculitis, a group of disorders that cause blood vessel inflammation. In Takayasu's arteritis, the inflammation damages the aorta — the large artery that carries blood from your heart to the rest of your body — and its main branches.
The disease can lead to blockages or narrowed arteries (stenosis) or abnormally dilated arteries (aneurysms). Takayasu's arteritis can also lead to arm or chest pain and high blood pressure and eventually to heart failure or stroke.
If you don't have symptoms, you may not need treatment. Or you may need medications to control the inflammation in the arteries and prevent complications. But even with treatment, relapses are common.
The signs and symptoms of Takayasu's arteritis often occur in two stages.
In the first stage, you're likely to feel unwell with:
- Unintended weight loss
- General aches and pains
- Mild fever
Not everyone has these early signs and symptoms. It's possible for inflammation to damage arteries for years before you realize something is wrong.
During the second stage, inflammation is causing arteries to narrow so less blood, oxygen and nutrients reach your organs and tissues. Stage 2 signs and symptoms may include:
- Weakness or pain in your limbs with use
- Lightheadedness, dizziness or fainting
- Memory problems
- Trouble thinking
- Shortness of breath
- Visual changes
- High blood pressure
- Difference in blood pressure between your arms
- Decreased pulse
- Too few red blood cells (anemia)
- Chest pain
- Noises heard over the arteries (bruits) when listening with a stethoscope
When to see a doctor
Seek immediate medical attention for shortness of breath, chest pain or signs of a stroke.
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have other signs or symptoms that worry you. Early detection of Takayasu's arteritis is key to getting effective treatment.
If you've already been diagnosed with Takayasu's arteritis, keep in mind that the symptoms of a disease flare (recurrence) are often similar to those that occurred originally. Also pay attention to any new signs or symptoms. These may indicate either a recurrence or a complication of treatment.
With Takayasu's arteritis, the aorta and other major arteries, including those leading to your head and kidneys, become inflamed. Over time the inflammation causes changes in these arteries, including thickening, narrowing and scarring.
No one knows exactly what causes the initial inflammation in Takayasu's arteritis. It's likely that the condition is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks your own arteries by mistake. The disease may be triggered by a virus or other infection.
Takayasu's arteritis primarily affects girls and women between the ages of 10 and 40. The disorder occurs worldwide, but it's most common in Asia. Sometimes the condition runs in families.
With Takayasu's arteritis, extended or recurring cycles of inflammation and healing in the arteries might lead to one or more of the following complications:
- Hardening and narrowing of blood vessels, which can cause reduced blood flow to organs and tissues
- High blood pressure, usually as a result of decreased blood flow to your kidneys
- Inflammation of the heart, which may affect the heart muscle (myocarditis) or the heart valves
- Heart failure due to high blood pressure, myocarditis or aortic regurgitation — a condition in which a faulty aortic valve allows blood to leak back into your heart — or a combination of these
- Stroke, which occurs as a result of reduced or blocked blood flow in arteries leading to your brain
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA), is like a stroke, producing similar symptoms but causing no permanent damage
- Aneurysm in the aorta, which occurs when the walls of the blood vessel weaken and stretch out, forming a bulge that has the potential to rupture
- Heart attack, which may occur as a result of reduced blood flow to the heart
A healthy pregnancy is possible for women with Takayasu's arteritis. But the disease and drugs used to treat it can affect your fertility and pregnancy. If you have Takayasu's arteritis and are planning on becoming pregnant, work with your doctor to develop a plan to limit complications of pregnancy before you conceive. And during your pregnancy see your doctor regularly for checkups.