Giant cell arteritis


  • A disease which occurs in people over 50 yrs and more often much older – it is exceptionally rare in younger people
  • Causes inflammation of medium sized arteries e.g. vertebral, carotid ophthalmic arteries – cause is unknown (see image below)
  • May present suddenly with severe headache or stroke, or with a more chronic illness developing over weeks or even months
  • Inflammation may damage arteries causing them to block or clots form on damaged lining of the artery (intima) which can embolise to the brain or other organs
  • Usually associated with a very high ESR – i.e. >60mm per hour
  • Should be confirmed with a biopsy of an artery – most often the temporal artery – this can be done under local anaesthetic as a day case
  • The biopsy will become uninformative within days of starting treatment so should be done early.
Giant cell arteritis
Giant cell arteritis. (Courtesy of Dr Colin Smith, Edinburgh)