Giant cell arteritis

What is giant cell arteritis?

Giant cell arteritis (GCA) – also known as temporal arteritis – is a condition where your medium and large sized blood vessels become inflamed, most commonly the vessels in your temples. This is one of the most common forms of vasculitis (inflammation of blood vessels), affecting one or two people out of 10,000 in the UK. It is very rare to diagnose this condition in people under the age of 50.

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.

How is giant cell arteritis treated?

The main aims of treatment are to prevent organ damage and relieve your symptoms. High dose steroids, such as prednisolone, are given initially to reduce the inflammation of the blood vessels. This dose will be slowly tapered down over many months. In people whose disease does not respond very well to steroids, other drugs may be considered such as methotrexate, azathioprine or infliximab. Withdrawal of steroids may lead to a relapse of symptoms, and sometimes patients may need to have them restarted as a result.

Where can I find out more about giant cell arteritis?

vascVasculitis UK

North Devon District Hospital

Last updated: February 6, 2020