Complications of giant cell arteritis 

People with giant cell arteritis (GCA) can sometimes develop further problems associated with the condition.

Visual impairment

Despite the best efforts of healthcare professionals, around one in five people with giant cell arteritis will experience some degree of visual impairment. This can range from some loss of vision in one eye to total blindness.

Coming to terms with any degree of visual impairment can be an overwhelming experience, and it is likely that you will require a great deal of help and support. You may find it useful to contact the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB), the UK’s leading charity for people who are affected by visual impairment.

The RNIB’s website also contains a section about living with sight loss which provides a useful range of resources for people who are affected by visual impairment. You can also read more information about living with low vision.

Abdominal aorta aneurysm

The inflammation that is associated with giant cell arteritis can sometimes lead to a weakening in the walls of one of the major blood vessels in the body, known as the abdominal aorta. This is the main blood vessel that is responsible for taking blood from the heart and distributing it to the rest of the body.

Weakening in the walls of the abdominal aorta can lead to the formation of a bulge in the wall of the abdominal aorta, known as an aneurysm. An abdominal aorta aneurysm is potentially very serious because there is a risk that the blood vessel could burst open (rupture), resulting in massive internal bleeding and, in most cases, death.

Due to this risk, it may be recommended that you have a check-up every two years if you have a history of giant cell arteritis. During these check-ups, a number of tests, such as ultrasound scans and X-rays, can be used to check if you have developed an abdominal aorta aneurysm.

If a significant aneurysm is detected, a type of surgery known as grafting is usually recommended. This involves removing the section of the aorta that contains the aneurysm and replacing it with a piece of synthetic tubing called a graft.

Read more about treating an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

Cardiovascular disease

People with giant cell arteritis are also at an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease. This is the general term for disease of the heart or blood vessels. Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of stroke and heart attacks.

Treatment for giant cell arteritis, such as low-dose aspirin, can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Read more about cardiovascular disease.

Page last reviewed: 23/01/2013

Next review due: 23/01/2015