Giant cell arteritis is an inflammation of the lining of the arteries. It mostly affects the arteries in the head, especially the ones in the temples. Therefore, the condition is sometimes referred to as temporal arteritis or cranial arteritis.

Giant cell arteritis often causes headaches, jaw pain and blurred or double vision. The most serious complications of the disorder involve blindness and rarely stroke.

Rapid treatment of the condition is essential in preventing permanent tissue damage and vision loss.



The most common symptoms of giant cell arteritis are headaches and tenderness, which are often severe and usually occur in both temples. Other symptoms of the disorder may vary.


Typical symptoms of giant cell arteritis include:


  • Persistent, severe head pain and tenderness
  • Vision loss or double vision
  • Scalp tenderness (pain while combing the hair or laying the head)
  • Jaw pain (claudication) while chewing
  • Sudden permanent vision loss in one eye
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss


Pain and stiffness in the neck, shoulders or hips are common signs of a related disorder, polymyalgia rheumatica.



The arteries are flexible tubes with thick, elastic walls. Oxygen rich blood leaves the heart through the main artery (aorta). The aorta then subdivides into smaller arteries that deliver blood to all parts of the body.

In giant cell arteritis, some of the arteries become inflamed, causing swelling and decreased blood flow at times. The exact cause of inflammation is unknown.

Swelling mostly occurs in the temporal arteries in the head. The swelling may affect part of an artery with sections of normal vessel in between.


Risk factors

Factors that increase the risk of giant cell arteritis include:


  • Age: people aged 50 and older are at a risk of developing the disorder.
  • Sex: women have a greater risk of developing giant cell arteritis.
  • Northern European descent: people of Scandinavian origin face a greater risk of giant cell arteritis.
  • Polymyalgia rheumatica: approximately half the people with giant cell arteritis suffer from polymyalgia rheumatica.



Complications of giant cell arteritis include:


  • Blindness: the most common complication of the disorder due to swelling that narrows the blood vessels and reduces the amount of blood that reaches the body’s tissues. Limited blood flow to the eyes can cause vision loss.
  • Aortic aneurysm: a bulge that forms in a weakened blood vessel, usually the aorta, and if it ruptures it can cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
  • Stroke: a blood clot may form in the affected artery and obstruct blood flow to the brain completely leading to a stroke.