Symptoms of Takayasu's arteritis can vary depending on whether the condition is in the first or second stage. The first stage is not always noticed because inflammation in the artery can exist for years before patients are aware of symptoms. Only about 50 percent of patients experience symptoms of the first stage. When symptoms are present during the first stage, they may include:
- Fast and unintentional weight loss
- Muscle aches
- Joint pain
- Slight fever
This phase gradually goes away and is replaced by chronic inflammation and damaging changes to the aorta and its branches.
In advanced stages of the disease, the walls of the arteries may become weak and develop aneurysms. These are weak spots that bulge out from the artery walls due to the pressure of the blood flowing through the artery. If they aren't discovered, they can burst and cause bleeding inside the body.
The blood vessels that branch off of the aorta are particularly at risk. Any or all of them may become blocked. Temporary interruptions of blood flow to the brain and head may occur, or the portion of the aorta that runs through the abdomen may be affected.
When the condition progresses to the second stage, the affected blood vessels have begun to narrow and blood flow to tissues and organs has become limited. Symptoms associated with this stage of the condition include:
- Arm or leg weakness or pain with use (claudication)
- Memory problems
- Trouble thinking
- Shortness of breath
- Visual changes
- High blood pressure
- Difference in blood pressure between each arm
- A very feint or absent pulse in the wrists
- Too few red blood cells (anemia)
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Skin rash
- Night sweats
The involvement of the coronary arteries, severe high blood pressure, or changes in the aorta's ability to work efficiently can lead to heart failure. Much less often, blockages in the arteries of the lungs can cause high blood pressure in the lungs.
Causes and Risk Factors
It is unknown what causes the initial inflammation in the aorta. Some research suggests that it is an autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks the aorta as if it is a foreign object. This may be triggered by an infection.
Takayasu's arteritis occurs throughout the world. However, it is most common in Asian women. Other patients at an increased risk are young women between the ages of 15 and 30 years old.