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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 side of the head to the outer 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 is not known what causes the immune system to be overactive.

Risk Factors

GCA is more common in women and in people 50 years old and older. It is also more common in people of northern European decent. Other things that raise the risk are:

Symptoms

GCA may cause:

  • Fever and night sweats
  • Tiredness
  • Loss of hunger and weight loss
  • Joint or muscle aches
  • Headaches or pain in the scalp, jaw, or tongue
  • Vision problems

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam and eye exam may be done.

Tests include:

  • Blood tests—to look for inflammation and rule out other causes
  • Biopsy of the temporal artery
  • Ultrasound

These are used to confirm the diagnosis.

Other imaging may also be done such as MRI, PET scan, and CAT scan.

Treatment

Treatment will begin as soon as GCA is suspected. It may involve:

  • Corticosteroids—to lower inflammation
  • Medicines to change how the immune system works

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent GCA.

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 and polymyalgia rheumatica. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/giant-cell-arteritis-and-polymyalgia-rheumatica/. Accessed July 19, 2021.

Giant cell arteritis (including temporal arteritis). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/giant-cell-arteritis-including-temporal-arteritis . Accessed July 19, 2021.

Giant cell arteritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Available at: https://www.niams.nih.gov/health-topics/giant-cell-arteritis. Accessed July 19, 2021.

Uppal S, Hadi M, et al. Updates in the diagnosis and management of giant cell arteritis. Curr Neurol Neurosci Rep. 2019;19(9):68.

Last reviewed July 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC  Last Updated: 7/19/2021