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Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA)

Giant cell arteritis (GCA) causes inflammation of major arteries in the head, neck and arms. In this form of vasculitis, the arteries narrow, preventing blood flow to vital organs.

Left untreated, GCA leads to serious complications, including loss of vision and stroke

Giant cell arteritis (GCA): what you should know

  • Giant cell arteritis causes a variety of symptoms, including the following:
    • Throbbing headaches, especially at the temple
    • Scalp tenderness
    • Double or blurry vision
    • Fever, night sweats
    • Loss of balance
    • Loss of appetite and weight loss
    • Fatigue
    • Muscle aches
  • In about 70 percent of GCA patients, the eyes are affected. If not treated quickly, blindness can occur.
  • Often GCA and polymyalgia rheumatica, another inflammatory disorder, occur together. It is not clear why.  The conditions share some symptoms, and your doctor should test you for both.
  • It is not known what causes giant cell arteritis. GCA might occur when a faulty immune system is triggered by environmental factors, such as an infection. You are more likely to get GCA if you are over 50 years old.

How can I get help for giant cell arteritis (GCA)?

Giant cell arteritis diagnosis

Timely diagnosis and treatment are essential to preventing serious complications from giant cell arteritis, like blindness. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, see your doctor.  

If giant cell arteritis is suspected, you may be referred to a rheumatologist. You will also need to see an ophthalmologist, a doctor who specializes in treating eye conditions. 

Testing for giant cell arteritis

There is no single test to diagnose giant cell arteritis. Your rheumatologist may order several tests that measure inflammation, including the following:

  • Blood tests to check inflammation
  • Chest X-ray or CT scan to see the extent of the damage
  • Biopsy of the temporal artery to confirm the damage

Care for giant cell arteritis (GCA) at Rush

Treatment. If you have GCA and it is treated quickly, your prognosis is generally good. With proper treatment, GCA rarely comes back.

Treatment at Rush focuses on controlling inflammation and preventing complications. Your care team will develop a plan for you that may include the following:

  • Initially, you will likely be given high doses of prednisone. The dose typically is tapered over 12 to 18 months based on your response.
  • You may also be put on a low-dose aspirin regimen to prevent heart attack or stroke.
  • You will also undergo a baseline bone density analysis to rule out osteoporosis, or bone fragility. Extended use of prednisone increases your risk of osteoporosis.
  • You will need regular checkups with your doctor at Rush to monitor medication side effects and overall health.
  • You will need yearly chest X-rays or angiograms to check on the aorta or other large blood vessels.

Why choose Rush for giant cell arteritis (GCA) care

  • The team in the Division of Rheumatology has experience identifying, diagnosing and treating all types of vasculitis, including GCA.
  • At the Rush Osteoporosis Center, rheumatologists work to prevent osteoporosis in patients with autoimmune disorders, including vasculitis. They pay special attention to those using steroid treatments, which can raise the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Rush offers an onsite laboratory, infusion therapies and a variety of other services. This makes your care easily coordinated and more convenient for you. 

Departments and programs that treat this condition