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HealthInfo Canterbury

Treating giant cell arteritis (GCA)

If your doctor thinks you have GCA, they'll start steroid treatment straight away and refer you to the Christchurch Hospital Ophthalmology Department for a procedure called a temporal artery biopsy. It's important that you start steroid treatment early to avoid losing your sight. You may also need to start taking a daily aspirin dose to help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

Temporal artery biopsy

If you need a temporal artery biopsy, it will be carried out at the Christchurch Hospital Ophthalmology Department, normally within two weeks of your referral being sent.

You can also pay to have a temporal artery biopsy done privately.

This short procedure involves a surgeon removing a small piece of your temporal artery and looking at it under a microscope to check for inflammation. This is normally done while you're awake, under a local anaesthetic. The temporal artery biopsy, your blood test results, and your symptoms, will help confirm whether or not you have GCA.

Ongoing treatment

Your doctor will manage your ongoing treatment for GCA.

If you have GCA, you'll need to keep taking steroids until the symptoms have gone. This can take several years or more. While you will start on a high dose of steroids, in time your doctor may lower the dose to a maintenance level. It may take a few months to get to this maintenance level dose. Any changes to your medication should only be done under the supervision of a GP or specialist.

As steroids can reduce your bone density and may cause osteoporosis, your doctor will usually give you advice about trying to prevent this.

Referral to a specialist

In some cases, your GP may suggest you see a rheumatologist at Christchurch Hospital. For example, if you have GCA symptoms, but your test results indicate you don't have GCA, or if the steroids aren't working properly.

If you prefer, or you don't want to wait, you can pay to see a private rheumatologist.

On the next page: Getting help for GCA

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by rheumatologist, Department of Rheumatology, Immunology & Allergy, Canterbury DHB. Last reviewed November 2019.

Page reference: 48901

Review key: HIGCA-18689