Temporal Arteritis
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Temporal Arteritis

(Giant Cell Arteritis)

En Español (Spanish Version)


Temporal arteritis is a swelling or inflammation that involves the temporal artery. The temporal artery runs over the temple, along the area to the outside of the eye. In extreme or untreated cases, temporal arteritis can lead to blindness.

Another condition, giant cell arteritis (GCA) is used to describe inflammation that can occur in the arteries of the head, neck, upper body, and arms. When GCA involves mainly the temporal artery, it can be referred to as temporal arteritis. Vasculitis is the more general term for swelling or inflammation of blood vessels anywhere in the body.

Temporal Arteritis

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The cause of temporal arteritis is not known. It may result from an immune response in the body.

Risk Factors

A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition. Your risk of temporal arteritis increases if:

  • Age: 50 or older
  • Race: White, especially of Scandinavian or northern European descent
  • Location: northern latitudes
  • Sex: female
  • Family member with temporal arteritis
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica , a condition characterized by stiffness and pain in muscles of the neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, and thighs
  • Smoking and low body weight


Symptoms may include:

  • Headaches that are usually localized and one-sided
  • Fever or flu -like symptoms
  • Pain when chewing
  • Pain in the jaw or tongue
  • Scalp pain or tenderness over the temporal artery
  • Anemia
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Vision loss
  • Sweats
  • Aches in the joints or muscles


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and perform a physical exam.

Diagnosis is based on the occurrence of certain factors, including:

  • Age: 50 or older
  • New localized headache
  • Temporal artery tenderness or decreased temporal artery pulse
  • Sedimentation rate of 50 mm/hour or greater
  • Abnormal temporal artery biopsy
  • Anemia

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests, including a sedimentation rate, hemoglobin, or hematocrit
  • Biopsy—removal of a sample of the temporal artery for testing
  • Retinal exam
  • Ultrasound of the temporal artery


Treatment may include:

Corticosteroid Therapy

Corticosteroid therapy is used to decrease the swelling, inflammation, and risk of blindness. High doses of prednisone are often prescribed initially and then tapered off. Therapy is often continued for several years. Methotrexate may be used as a steroid sparing agent.

Calcium and Vitamin D Supplementation

You may be advised to take supplements of calcium and vitamin D to counteract the effects of long-term corticosteroid use on bone. Prolonged use of corticosteroids has potential side effects, including osteoporosis , diabetes , cataracts , and stomach irritation.


There is no known way to prevent temporal arteritis.


American Academy of Family Physicians

Arthritis Foundation

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke


Canadian Cardiovascular Society

Canadian Society of Otolaryngology


American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://www.aafp.org .

Karahaliou M, Vaiopoulos G, Papspyrou S. Colour duplex sonography of temporal arteries before decision for biopsy: a prospective study in 55 patients with suspected giant cell arteritis. Arthritis Res Ther. 2006;8:R116.

Larsson K, Mellström D, Nordborg C, Odén A, Nordborg E. Early menopause, low body mass index, and smoking are independent risk factors for developing giant cell arteritis. Ann Rheum Dis. 2006;65:529-532.

Nat Clin Pract Rheumatol . 2006;2:443-451.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov .

Parikh M, Miller NR, Lee AG, et al. Prevalence of a normal c-reactive protein with an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate in biopsy-proven giant cell arteritis. Ophthalmology . 2006;113(10):1842-1845.

University of Southern California Department of Neurosurgery website. Available at: http://archsurg.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/full/139/11/1146 .

Last reviewed December 2007 by Jill Landis, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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