New campaign reveals blind spot for older Australians

Arthritis Australia is urging older Australians to look out for symptoms of silent inflammation that
could put their eyesight at risk, and to speak to their doctor without delay.

More than a thousand Australians over 50 years old are affected each year by Giant Cell Arteritis,
an autoimmune disease where the body mistakenly attacks its own healthy blood vessels. This can
interrupt blood flow and causes pain and inflammation in the temples. Without timely diagnosis
and treatment, Giant Cell Arteritis can cause irreversible blindness within days of symptom onset.

Launching a new campaign to raise awareness of the condition, Arthritis Australia CEO Andrew
Mills said there was a real danger that many Australians will not have heard of Giant Cell Arteritis
and may just put up with the symptoms.

“Giant Cell Arteritis is considered a medical emergency because of the short window to save the
person’s eyesight, so it is essential that older Australians who experience possible symptoms of this
condition don’t hesitate to speak to their doctor.

“The good news is that doctors are increasingly well equipped to diagnose and treat this condition,
as long as people affected come forward,” Mr Mills said.

“Possible symptoms of the condition include new headaches (usually on one side of the head
only), fatigue, a tender scalp or temples, sudden vision loss, dizziness, pain in the jaw, persistent
sore throat or difficulty swallowing.

“People with polymyalgia rheumatica should be particularly alert to these symptoms as one in five
people with this condition may also develop Giant Cell Arteritis,” Mr Mills said.

Until now, Australians have had to look overseas for information about the condition, leading to
low public awareness which Arthritis Australia says is “conspiring to put older Australians at
unnecessary risk”.

Arthritis Australia has released new information about Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA) on its website
that includes videos featuring a medical expert and a person living with GCA since 2014.
Judy O’Neil from Sydney was 48 hours away from going blind in her left eye when her doctor
identified inflammation that led to the diagnosis of GCA.

“It’s very important that when you notice something irregular, you connect with a doctor
immediately to find out the cause because it’s such a diabolical disease,” Judy said.
Arthritis Australia thanked rheumatologist Dr Irwin Lim and his patient Judy O’Neil for their help
in spreading the word about GCA.

“We hope our campaign will raise awareness of the symptoms and help reduce the toll of Giant
Cell Arteritis,” Mr Mills said.

About Giant Cell Arteritis

Giant Cell Arteritis is a condition which occurs when blood vessels or arteries become inflamed.
The condition is usually diagnosed following a review of symptoms, a physical examination, blood
tests, and a biopsy, where a small piece of tissue is removed from in front of the ear and then
examined under a microscope.

Giant Cell Arteritis can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication, usually beginning with
corticosteroids and progressing to disease-modifying therapy if the condition worsens. The
Australian Government recently included a new medicine on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme
for eligible GCA patients. Medication should be matched with a healthy diet, appropriate exercise,
and plenty of rest.

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