Giant cell arteritis

Giant cell arteritis, also known as temporal arteritis, is a condition where arteries, particularly those at the side of the head (the temples), become inflamed (swollen). It is called ‘giant cell’ because abnormally large cells gather in the artery walls.

It's a serious condition that requires urgent treatment. The symptoms of GCA include fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, fever and headache. This is often accompanied by tenderness over the temples, due to inflammation of the underlying blood vessels. GCA is related to polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) – a condition which causes weakness, pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints, typically affecting the upper arms and legs.

Other effects of GCA include jaw or tongue pain when eating and blurred vision. It is important to remember that any sudden change in vision should be assessed urgently by a medical practitioner.

About our service

If your GP suspects you have giant cell arteritis they will arrange blood tests and refer you to us urgently.

We offer a fast track service to assess patients with suspected giant cell arteritis. You may have an ultrasound of your temporal arteries on the day you attend and/or you may be referred for a temporal artery biopsy which involves a return trip to hospital.

Treatments

If your GP has a strong suspicion of giant cell arteritis they will start you on steroid tablets. If we confirm the diagnosis you will normally stay on steroid tablets for between 12 and 18 months.

Most patients are able to come off steroid tablets eventually but some might require stronger medications to dampen the immune system such as methotrexate, leflunomide, azathioprine and very occasionally tociluzimabtocilizumab.

Being on steroid tablets for a long time  can cause thinning of the bones or “osteoporosis”.

Most patients will therefore also be given a calcium and vitamin D supplement and another tablet to prevent or treat osteoporosis, usually a “bisphosphonate” such as alendronic acid.

Patient information leaflets

We produce a wide range of leaflets which provide information about our services and about the treatment you might receive in our clinics or during your stay in hospital. 

We also produce these in different formats including large print, please contact the department you are visiting for more information.

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Useful videos

We have a wide range of videos which provide information about our services and about the treatment you might receive in our clinics or during your stay in hospital. 

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Information for healthcare professionals

Further information, including referral criteria, can be found here

Last updated: September 20, 2022.

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