Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Giant Cell Arteritis

(GCA; Temporal Arteritis)

Definition

Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is inflammation of the arteries. The most common are the small and medium sized arteries in the head.

Temporal arteritis is a form of GCA. The temporal artery runs over the temple to the outside of the eye. This needs care right away to prevent vision loss or a stroke.

Temporal Arteritis
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Causes  ^

The exact cause of GCA is unknown. The immune system attacks healthy arteries. This causes inflammation. It’s not known what causes the immune system to be overactive.

Risk Factors  ^

GCA is more common in women. The chances are higher for people:

  • Aged 50 years and older
  • With a family history
  • Of Scandinavian or northern European descent
  • Who have polymyalgia rheumatica—causes stiffness and pain the neck, shoulder, or hip muscles

Symptoms  ^

GCA may cause:

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of hunger
  • Weight loss
  • Night sweats
  • Joint or muscle aches

Temporal arteritis may cause:

  • Headaches
  • Scalp pain or tenderness over the artery
  • Jaw or tongue pain
  • Pain when chewing

Vision problems:

  • Partial or complete vision loss
  • Effect like a window shade closing over your eyes
  • Double vision

Diagnosis  ^

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You may have:

  • A physical exam
  • An eye exam
  • Blood tests
  • Biopsy of the temporal artery
  • Ultrasound

Treatment  ^

Care will start as soon as GCA is suspected. It may involve:

  • Corticosteroids—To lower inflammation. Doses start high, then are lowered over time.
  • Medicines to change how the immune system works.
  • Low-dose aspirin—To lower the chances of vision loss. This may not be helpful for everyone. Don’t start taking it until you talk to your doctor.

Prevention  ^

There is no way to prevent GCA since the cause is unknown.

RESOURCES:

Arthritis Foundation
https://www.arthritis.org

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
https://www.ninds.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Health Canada
https://www.canada.ca

College of Family Physicians of Canada
http://www.cfpc.ca

REFERENCES:

Giant cell arteritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/giant-cell-arteritis. Updated May 30, 2016. Accessed July 10, 2018.

Giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/giant-cell-arteritis-and-polymyalgia-rheumatica. Updated March 12, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

Giant cell arteritis (including temporal arteritis). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115154/Giant-cell-arteritis-including-temporal-arteritis. Updated April 23, 2018. Accessed July 10, 2018.

Last reviewed June 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC  Last Updated: 7/10/2018