Are you familiar with temporal or giant cell arteritis (GCA)? This condition affects medium to large arteries, predominantly in elderly individuals, and can lead to severe complications if not properly diagnosed and treated. This blog post will comprehensively understand temporal arteritis, including its symptoms, causes, and treatments. Let’s embark on this journey to better comprehend this systemic inflammatory vasculitis and learn how to manage it effectively.

Key Takeaways

  • Temporal arteritis, or giant cell arteritis (GCA), is an inflammatory disorder of medium to large arteries in elderly individuals.
  • Symptoms can include visual disturbances, headache, jaw pain and neck pain. Untreated GCA can lead to acute unilateral vision loss and should be treated with corticosteroids.
  • Corticosteroid therapy is the primary treatment option for temporal arteritis, supplemented by steroid-sparing agents and lifestyle modifications as needed.

Overview of Temporal Arteritis

Termporal arteritis - Are you at risk?

Temporal arteritis, also called temporal arteritis, or giant cell arteritis (GCA), is a systemic inflammatory vasculitis affecting medium to large arteries, primarily in elderly individuals. This condition targets blood vessels, manifesting in various symptoms such as vision impairment, headaches, and neck pain. Although age, ethnicity, and geography have been identified as potential risk factors, the primary cause of GCA is believed to be an inadequate response to endothelial injury, which may involve vascular endothelial growth factor.

Treatment for temporal arteritis generally entails corticosteroid therapy, steroid-sparing agents, and lifestyle modifications, aiming to improve blood flow and reduce inflammation. Prompt and appropriate treatment usually leads to full recovery, enhancing the chances of success.

Symptoms and Warning Signs

Women with temporal arteritis and a sore jaw.

Patients with GCA often experience the following symptoms:

  • Visual disturbances
  • Headache
  • Jaw pain
  • Neck pain
  • Scalp tenderness

These symptoms reflect the involvement of the temporal artery and other medium-sized head and neck arteries. In addition, constitutional symptoms such as fatigue, fevers, and weight loss are commonly reported, with a new onset headache (temporal or occipital) presenting in 90% of cases. The superficial temporal artery may also be affected in these instances.

One of the most concerning ocular manifestations of GCA is acute unilateral vision loss, which the involvement of posterior ciliary arteries can cause. Posterior ischemic optic neuropathy (PION) occurs when the blood supply to the retrobulbar portion of the optic nerve is reduced. This can result in cerebral ischemia and homonymous hemianopsia, which causes vision loss. Reports indicate that vision loss ranges from 8.2% to 20%, with permanent partial or complete vision loss possible within this range. Up to 38% of cases of GCA may present without any additional systemic findings – these are referred to as “occult” presentations. Such cases may have ocular symptoms such as vision loss or diplopia..

GCA is considered an ophthalmologic emergency, and the standard of care for initial treatment is corticosteroids. Corticosteroid therapy should be initiated urgently, as further vision loss and fellow eye involvement are typically preventable. Delaying corticosteroids until a biopsy can be conducted should be avoided.

Risk Factors and Causes

Temporal Arterits - Risk Factors

GCA is more common in individuals over 50, with the average age of presentation being 72.5 years for female patients and 70.3 years for male patients. Women are affected between two and six times more often than men. Sometimes, a negative temporal artery biopsy may still indicate GCA if clinical symptoms are present.

Genetic factors, such as low body mass index, early menopause, and relative adrenal hypofunction, have been linked to GCA. Additionally, smoking increases the risk of GCA by a factor of six in women. Research suggests that GCA is an antigen-driven disease which is characterized by its granulomatous histopathology. Local T-cell and macrophage activation can be seen in and around the elastic tissue of arterial walls..

Proinflammatory cytokines play a significant role in GCA pathogenesis, and the condition can also increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Diagnostic Methods

Diagnosing GCA involves clinical evaluation, laboratory tests such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP), imaging studies like ultrasound and MRI, and the gold standard for diagnosis, temporal artery biopsy. ESR and CRP tests are particularly useful. CRP has been reported to have 100% sensitivity and 97% specificity for GCA diagnosis. This shows that the test has high accuracy. The 1990 American College of Rheumatology classification criteria for GCA have a sensitivity of 93.5% and a specificity of 91.2%.

Colour Doppler ultrasound provides several advantages in GCA diagnosis, including non-invasive, safe, real-time imaging with the ability to visualize multiple arteries, such as the facial, occipital, and vertebral arteries. Temporal artery biopsy, however, remains the gold standard for GCA diagnosis. A positive temporal artery biopsy confirms the diagnosis, but physicians must consider all relevant clinical information before deciding whether or not a repeat biopsy is needed. Imaging studies can help form part of this picture. Accurate analysis requires a biopsy sample within the artery’s 1 cm to 2.5 cm range. Correct sample size can easily avoid false negatives.

Treatment Options for Temporal Arteritis

Prednisone tablets for the treatment of Temporal Arteritis

Corticosteroid therapy is the primary treatment for temporal arteritis, with additional options such as steroid-sparing agents and lifestyle modifications provided for select cases. The recommended dosage of corticosteroid therapy for temporal arteritis is typically 40-60 mg per day of prednisone or prednisolone.

The following subsections delve deeper into corticosteroid therapy, steroid-sparing agents, and lifestyle modifications.

Corticosteroid Therapy

Corticosteroids are the mainstay of treatment for GCA, with dosing and duration varying based on individual patient factors. To prevent irreversible complications, therapy must be initiated early.

Prednisone is widely used to treat Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA). The recommended dosage range for initiation is between 40 mg to 100 mg per day. A common starting point for this dosage is 1 mg/kg/day. In cases where a biopsy confirms the diagnosis, a dosage of 80-100 mg/day of prednisone is suggested, or intravenous corticosteroids such as 1 gram of methylprednisone for 3 days followed by 1-2 mg/kg/day of oral prednisone.

Steroid-Sparing Agents

In some cases, additional medications such as azathioprine, methotrexate, tocilizumab, and leflunomide may be used to reduce the long-term side effects of corticosteroids or to manage cases resistant to steroid therapy. These steroid-sparing agents, including methotrexate and tocilizumab, act by modulating the immune system and suppressing inflammation, enabling a reduced dose of steroids to be used while still controlling the disease. However, potential side effects associated with the use of steroid-sparing agents may include:

  • fluid retention
  • acne
  • delayed wound healing
  • hair loss
  • skin atrophy
  • striae
  • increased susceptibility to infections
  • weight gain
  • glucose intolerance
  • hypertension
  • bone thinning
  • avascular necrosis of bone
  • easy bruising

Lifestyle Modifications

Patients with GCA may benefit from lifestyle changes such as smoking cessation, regular exercise, and a healthy diet to reduce the risk of complications and improve overall health. Smoking cessation is essential for patients with temporal arteritis because smoking has been demonstrated to raise the likelihood of developing temporal arteritis. Moreover, smoking can exacerbate other conditions such as diabetes mellitus and hypertension, which can aggravate the symptoms of temporal arteritis. To improve overall health and diminish the risk of complications associated with temporal arteritis, patients should abstain from smoking.

Exercise may have beneficial effects in managing temporal arteritis, such as:

  • reducing inflammation
  • improving strength and stability
  • preventing bone loss
  • benefiting the heart and lungs

Regular aerobic exercise, such as walking, is recommended for up to 30 minutes on most days. Resistance exercise training programs have also been found to reduce inflammatory markers. Before beginning any exercise program, consultation with a healthcare professional is recommended.

Complications and Long-Term Effects

A complicated looking sign with many lines - indicating complications of Temporal Arteritis

GCA can lead to serious complications, including irreversible vision loss, aortic aneurysms, and cerebrovascular events. These severe complications are associated with GCA due to the involvement of blood vessels, leading to issues such as vision impairment, headaches, and neck pain. In particular, irreversible vision loss is a major concern, as it can result from the involvement of posterior ciliary arteries in GCA cases. The importance of early diagnosis and prompt treatment is underscored by the complications related to GCA.

Long-term corticosteroid use may also cause adverse effects such as osteoporosis and gastrointestinal issues. These side effects highlight the importance of closely monitoring GCA patients during follow-up visits. Monitoring for signs of advancing GCA and polymyalgia rheumatica, including cranial symptoms and ischemic symptoms, as well as any adverse effects to steroids, is critical during each visit.

Monitoring and Follow-Up Care

Regular follow-up care is essential for GCA patients to monitor response to treatment, adjust medication dosages, and manage potential side effects of corticosteroid therapy. For patients with temporal arteritis, follow-up visits are recommended every 2 to 3 weeks while taking high-dose prednisone, and subsequently every 4 to 6 weeks. In the first year, follow-up visits should be scheduled at weeks 1, 3, and 6, and then at months 3, 6, 9, and 12.

Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP) levels, which are commonly assessed through blood tests, are essential for monitoring GCA patients during follow-up visits. Close observation of patients allows healthcare professionals to provide appropriate treatment and management, thereby minimizing the risk of GCA complications and long-term effects.

Prevention Strategies

While there is no definitive way to prevent GCA, addressing modifiable risk factors such as smoking and maintaining a healthy lifestyle may help reduce the risk of developing the disease. Here are some steps you can take to prevent temporal arteritis potentially:

  • Engage in regular exercise
  • Follow a nutritious diet
  • Quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Manage stress effectively
  • Consider calcium and vitamin D supplementation

By incorporating these practices into your lifestyle, you may be able to lower your risk of developing temporal arteritis.

Given the established link between smoking and a heightened likelihood of developing temporal arteritis, smoking cessation is particularly important for these patients. Moreover, smoking can exacerbate other conditions, such as diabetes mellitus and hypertension, which can aggravate the symptoms of temporal arteritis. Particularly beneficial in the prevention of temporal arteritis is exercise, especially aerobics. It can enhance blood supply, cardiovascular function, and overall strength, helping maintain arterial health and reducing the risk of temporal arteritis.

Regular check-ups can also be advantageous for the early detection of temporal arteritis. During a physical examination, a physician can assess for tenderness, swelling, or diminished pulse in the temporal arteries, which are usual indications of temporal arteritis. Prompt treatment, facilitated by early recognition, can help avoid complications like vision loss.

Differential Diagnosis

Sign with "Diagnosis" on it, for Temporal Arteritis

GCA shares symptoms with several other conditions, including non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION), rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and Takayasu arteritis. Appropriate treatment and management hinge on an accurate diagnosis. Non-arteritic ischemic optic neuropathy (NAION), for example, has similar symptoms to GCA, such as sudden vision loss in one eye without any discomfort, significant loss of vision in one eye, blurring or haziness of vision (generally when gazing downward), and, in unusual cases, headache or pain around the eye.

Providing the appropriate treatment and management necessitates an accurate diagnosis of GCA. Diagnosing GCA involves a combination of:

  • Clinical evaluation
  • Laboratory tests such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP)
  • Imaging studies like ultrasound and MRI
  • The gold standard for diagnosis is temporal artery biopsy.

Close collaboration between healthcare professionals is required to guarantee optimal patient care in managing GCA. By working together, healthcare professionals can provide appropriate treatment and management, minimizing the risk of complications and long-term effects associated with GCA.


In conclusion, temporal arteritis, or giant cell arteritis (GCA), is a systemic inflammatory vasculitis affecting medium to large arteries, primarily in elderly individuals. Understanding the symptoms, causes, diagnostic methods, treatments, and potential complications of GCA is crucial for effective management and prevention of long-term effects. By staying informed, seeking regular healthcare check-ups, and addressing modifiable risk factors such as smoking, patients and healthcare professionals can work together to ensure optimal outcomes for those affected by GCA.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the life expectancy of someone with temporal arteritis?

With prompt treatment, people with temporal arteritis generally have a normal life expectancy; however, those untreated can have a poor prognosis and may result in death due to causes such as a heart attack or stroke.

What is the best treatment for temporal arteritis?

The best treatment for temporal arteritis is high doses of corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone, typically combined with aspirin. Immediate treatment is necessary to prevent vision loss, so medication is usually started before the diagnosis is confirmed.

What is temporal arteritis, and what are its primary characteristics?

Temporal arteritis, or giant cell arteritis (GCA), is a systemic inflammatory condition typically seen in elderly individuals that can cause vision loss, headaches, and neck pain.

What are the common symptoms of GCA?

Common symptoms of GCA include visual disturbances, headache, jaw pain, neck pain, and scalp tenderness. These reflect the involvement of the temporal artery and other medium-sized head and neck arteries.

What are the risk factors and causes associated with GCA?

GCA is associated with age, gender, genetics, smoking, and dysregulation of the immune system, all of which can increase one’s risk of developing this condition.


  1. Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Giant Cell Arteritis (Temporal Arteritis).”
  2. Mayo Clinic. “Temporal arteritis.”
  3. American College of Rheumatology. “Temporal Arteritis.”
  4. NHS UK. “Temporal arteritis (giant cell arteritis).”
  5. WebMD. “Temporal Arteritis.”
  6. Mount Sinai. “Temporal Arteritis.”
  7. Arthritis Foundation. “Temporal Arteritis.”
  8. Healthline. “Temporal Arteritis.”
Photo graph of Dr. Conlon operating with loops on.

Dr. M. Ronan Conlon started his career in the field of ophthalmology at the same time as the development of refractive eye surgery in Canada. In 1996, he brought laser technology to Canada from Germany, which allowed him to perform laser eye surgery before it was available in the United States. With the establishment of the Conlon Eye Institute, Dr. Conlon has performed more than 40,000 refractive procedures and has advanced his expertise in LASIK and refractive cataract surgery.

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