Medical Negligence claims for delayed diagnosis of Giant Cell Arteritis

Posted on 29th June 2020

What is Giant Cell Arteritis (Temporal Arteritis)?

Giant Cell Arteritis (‘GCA’), or Temporal Arteritis, as the condition is also known, is a serious inflammatory disease which affects the lining of arteries in the head (particularly those in the temples). It can however also affect the lining of the arteries in the neck and arms. The inflammation causes a narrowing or blockage of the blood vessels, interrupting blood flow. This condition requires urgent treatment because it can cause the sudden and painless loss of vision in either one or both eyes. The loss of vision is usually permanent. This condition can also cause an aortic aneurysm (weakness of the wall of the aorta) and in rare instances, a stroke.

Caucasian women over the age of 50 years – most commonly between the ages of 70 and 80 years – have the highest risk of developing GCA. Although women are more likely than men to develop GCA, research suggests that men are more likely to suffer potentially blinding eye involvement . The condition sometimes runs in families and a diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatic (an inflammatory condition causing pain and stiffness in the body) also puts an in individual at an increased risk of developing GCA.

What causes giant cell arteritis?

GCA is thought to be an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system attacks the arteries which supply blood to the head and brain, although the exact cause is uncertain. Certain genes and environmental factors may increase susceptibility of this condition. It also could be linked to the ageing process.
What are the symptoms of giant cell arteritis?

The initial symptoms of GCA may appear as flu like symptoms, such as tiredness, fatigue, fever, loss of appetite and unintentional weight loss.

The main symptoms are however as follows :

  • Frequent and severe headaches
  • Pain and tenderness over the temples
  • Jaw pain whilst eating or talking
  • Problems with vision, such as double vision or loss of vision in one or both eyes

A medical professional who does not appreciate the significance of these symptoms and fails to investigate/diagnose/treat a patient with GCA, or fails to refer a patient for further urgent investigations/diagnosis/treatment could be found by a court to be negligent.

How is giant cell arteritis diagnosed?

Diagnosing GCA is based on the description of the symptoms and a physical examination of the patient. This may reveal inflammation of the temporal artery. It may be tender to touch and may have a reduced pulse.
A temporal biopsy may then be carried out if GCA is suspected.

What is the treatment for giant cell arteritis?

GCA is treated with steroid medication, usually prednisolone and this treatment will start when GCA is suspected and before the diagnosis is confirmed due to the risk of loss of vision, if the condition is not treated quickly.

There are 2 stages of treatment:

  1. An initial high dose of steroids for a few weeks to help bring the symptoms of GCA under control.
  2.  A lower steroid dose (after the symptoms have improved) given over a longer period of time, possibly several years.

Losing sight in either one eye or both eyes, is a severe and debilitating injury. It is vital that medical professionals appreciate the significance of the symptoms of GCA and diagnose and treat the condition promptly. It is a medical emergency which requires prompt action to avoid serious injury.

The British Society for Rheumatology guidelines on diagnosis and treatment of GCA were published on 23rd January 2020 and seek to ensure that clinicians have the latest information about diagnosis and treatment.

In cases in which medical professionals have been negligent and GCA has not been diagnosed and treated promptly, causing loss of sight, individuals, may be entitled to claim a significant sum in damages (compensation). Damages for pain, suffering and loss of amenity amount to between about £46,000 to £51,000 for the loss of sight in one eye and £250,000 for total blindness. This does not include compensation awarded for care required, loss of earnings, travel expenses and medical treatment or other reasonable expenses suffered.

In a sad case, I recently represented a lady who lost the sight in her right eye, following the delay in diagnosis of GCA. Although liability was denied by the Defendants in this case, I negotiated a five figure settlement sum for my client.

Strict time limits apply to injury claims so if anyone is concerned that they may have suffered injury due to a failure to diagnose and treat GCA in time, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

If you have developed giant cell arteritis due to medical negligence you may be entitled to a compensation. For a free consultation with one of our medical negligence experts please call 0808 231 6369 or request a call back online.

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