Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is a condition in which medium and large arteries, usually in the head and neck, become inflamed.

It's sometimes called temporal arteritis because the arteries around the temples are usually affected.

The condition is one of the most common types of inflammation of the arteries and veins (vasculitis).

Symptoms of giant cell arteritis include:

  • aching and soreness in and around the temples
  • jaw muscle pain while eating
  • vision loss

These can often develop suddenly, but may follow vague symptoms such as weight loss and prolonged tiredness.

Read more about the symptoms of giant cell arteritis.

When to see your GP

Giant cell arteritis needs urgent medical attention and treatment with steroids. Without prompt treatment it can lead to permanent visual impairment.

Contact your GP as soon as possible if you suddenly develop a severe headache, jaw pain when eating, blurred or double vision, or a sore scalp. If this isn't possible, contact your out-of-hours service or call NHS 111.

Diagnosis and treatment

Treatment for giant cell arteritis will usually begin as soon as possible. This may mean that treatment begins before a diagnosis is confirmed.

An examination of your symptoms and blood tests may be carried out if it's thought you have giant cell arteritis.

The most effective way to diagnose the condition is to remove some tissue from your temporal artery so it can be studied. This procedure is known as a temporal artery biopsy.

The main treatment for giant cell arteritis is steroid medication (corticosteroids). Most people need to take steroids on a long-term basis to prevent their symptoms returning. A two-year course of corticosteroids is usually required.

Other types of medication, such as low-dose aspirin and medication that suppresses the immune system (immunosuppressants), may also be used to reduce the risk of the condition recurring and complications developing.

Read more about diagnosing giant cell arteritis and treating giant cell arteritis.


The damage to the blood vessels in giant cell arteritis can increase the risk of serious problems developing. These include permanent sight loss, abdominal aortic aneurysm, and cardiovascular disease.

Read more about the possible complications of giant cell arteritis.

Who's affected by giant cell arteritis?

In the UK, it's estimated about 1 in every 4,500 people will develop giant cell arteritis each year.

It only tends to affect adults over the age of 50, and those who develop the condition are usually over 60.

Giant cell arteritis is three times more common in women than in men. It's also seven times more common in white people than in black people.

Polymyalgia rheumatica

Around half of people with giant cell arteritis also develop polymyalgia rheumatic (PMR), a related but less serious condition.

Polymyalgia rheumatica causes inflammation of the muscles and sometimes the joints, resulting in symptoms that can include shoulder, neck and hip pain, and stiffness of the affected muscles (which is often most obvious after waking up).

The symptoms of polymyalgia rheumatica can develop before, after, or at the same time as the symptoms of giant cell arteritis.

Page last reviewed: 13/01/2015

Next review due: 13/01/2017