young adult woman laying in bed and holding her head in painGiant cell arteritis (GCA) is a vascular condition with many symptoms in common with temporomandibular joint disorders (called TMJ or TMD). While TMJ can have serious complications, those of GCA can be even worse. GCA can result in sudden blindness, stroke, and even sudden death. 

Sometimes GCA is misdiagnosed as TMJ, especially when people perform self-diagnosis without talking to a doctor. At the Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea in Lee’s Summit, our TMJ dentists can help you distinguish between GCA and TMJ so you can get the right treatment for you. However, you should also consider talking to your doctor if you suspect GCA. 

What Is Giant Cell Arteritis?

GCA occurs when the lining of your arteries becomes inflamed. As the swelling worsens, the flow through your arteries becomes restricted. When the swelling is too great, it can cut off the blood flow entirely, causing damage to tissues that depend on blood flow through that artery, including the eyes. This is why GCA can cause blindness. 

GCA is considered a rheumatic condition. It can overlap with other rheumatoid conditions, including polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR). 

Symptoms Common to TMJ and GCA

Unfortunately, people with GCA might be misdiagnosed with TMJ because many of the symptoms overlap. TMJ and GCA can both cause:

  • Jaw pain
  • Headaches
  • Facial pain

Although these symptoms are basically common between the two conditions, they do not manifest in the same way. 

Jaw pain is different in GCA. While people with TMJ might have persistent jaw pain, people with GCA tend to have jaw pain that is linked to chewing. On the other hand, headaches tend to be more persistent with GCA than with TMJ, although they are often in the same location: the temples. 

Facial pain is relatively common in TMJ, but it’s relatively rare in GCA. 

Symptoms More Common in TMJ

There are many TMJ symptoms that aren’t commonly linked to GCA. If you have these symptoms, talk to a Lee’s Summit TMJ dentist:

  • Ear symptoms like pain, fullness, ringing in the ears, and vertigo or dizziness
  • Neck pain
  • Tooth pain
  • Tooth damage and wear
  • Tingling and numbness in the fingers

The jaw and the ear have a strong link, so jaw problems often result in ear-related symptoms. The blood vessels normally impacted by GCA don’t supply the ears. Neck pain comes from the partnership between jaw muscles and neck muscles. Tooth pain, tooth damage, and tooth wear relate to jaw dysfunction and bruxism (clenching and grinding). Tingling and numbness in the fingers is linked to spine misalignment that comes from the way the body tries to balance in relation to an unbalanced jaw. 

GCA strikes older individuals most of the time. If you are under age 50, it’s unlikely that your symptoms are GCA. TMJ, on the other hand, is common among teens and young adults. 

Symptoms More Common in GCA

On the other hand, there are some symptoms that are more common in GCA. If you have these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor in Lee’s Summit about GCA:

  • Prominent blood vessels on the head
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Vision problems

Swollen blood vessels affected by GCA can bulge up under the skin. If you notice prominent blood vessels appearing suddenly on your forehead, this is a common symptom of GCA. 

Fatigue is not normally a symptom of TMJ. However, fatigue is common in fibromyalgia, one of the chronic overlapping pain conditions (COPC) that often occurs with TMJ. if you experience fever or loss of appetite with jaw pain, but there’s no indication of infection, suspect GCA. 

Vision problems occur when GCA is relatively advanced. Most often, vision loss occurs suddenly. Sometimes, though, people might experience double vision or visual hallucinations before they develop vision loss. Vision loss is sometimes reversible if treated quickly, but other times vision loss may be permanent. 

Remember: GCA typically affects older individuals. If you are under 50, then it is highly unlikely that you have GCA. 

Accurate TMJ Diagnosis in Lee’s Summit

If you have TMJ symptoms in Lee’s Summit and want to determine whether they are related to TMJ or another condition, let the Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea. Our Lee’s Summit TMJ dentists will perform a thorough assessment using the latest technology and techniques. We will let you know if you have TMJ or if you should consider different explanations for your symptoms, such as GCA. 

Please call (816) 795-1000 or use our online form to request an appointment at the Center for TMJ & Sleep Apnea, in Lee’s Summit near Exit 111 from 470 (83rd St).