Giant Cell Arteritis

Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA) is a condition where the body attacks its own blood vessels. This is known as an auto-immune disease.

Arteries are the blood vessels that take oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the all parts of the body.

GCA can affect the main artery in the heart and smaller blood vessels in the head. This can interrupt blood flow. It can also cause pain, inflammation and tenderness around the temples.

Getting treatment for GCA is very important because the condition can cause blindness

Symptoms of GCA include:

  • New onset of headaches (usually on one side of the head only)
  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Tender scalp or temples
  • Sudden vision loss, blurred or double vision
  • Pain in the jaw when eating or talking
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with coordination and balance
  • Persistent sore throat
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Fevers and sweats
  • Dry cough

What causes GCA?

It is not yet known what causes GCA. A person's genes and their exposure to things like infection may trigger the condition. But, this is not yet confirmed in research.

Who is affected?

Around 1,000 Australians are diagnosed with GCA each year. GCA is more common in women. It is also more common in people with ancestors from northern Europe. It mostly affects people aged 70 years or older and is very rare in people under 50 years.

People with GCA may also experience another type of arthritis called polymyalgia rheumatica

How is it diagnosed?

Your doctor will diagnose GCA based on:

  • Reported symptoms
  • Physical examination
  • Blood tests which may also be repeated to monitor for changes following treatment
  • Biopsy: This involves testing a small piece of tissue taken from the body
  • Scans: this allows doctors to see inside arteries around the temple and armpit; to rule out other conditions; or to look at the larger arteries.

How is Giant Cell Arteritis treated?

In order to reduce the risk of blindness, treatment should begin as soon as the condition is diagnosed or suspected by your doctor:

  • Corticosteroids: These are the most commonly used medicine when GCA is suspected or diagnosed.
  • Disease-modifying therapy: Doctors may recommend another form of medication if symptoms return or worsen. These therapies reduce inflammation and may be used on their own or with lower doses of corticosteroids.

What else can I do?

Live a healthy life. A healthy lifestyle is important for looking after your overall health and wellbeing. This includes:

  • Diet: A healthy, balanced diet is important, especially your intake of calcium and vitamin D.
  • Stay Active: Keeping active is important for our overall health and wellbeing. Referral to a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist may be helpful.
  • Rest: Your body needs plenty of rest. 

Learn about your condition and play an active role in your treatment.

  • Continue treatment unless your doctor says otherwise. It can be dangerous to stop or change treatment without speaking to your doctor.
  • Regular blood tests. This will help your doctor check for inflammation and monitor for medication side effects.
  • Inform your doctor if symptoms return, such as headaches or changes in your vision.

Acknowledge your feelings and seek support

  • It is natural to feel scared, frustrated, sad and sometimes angry. Be aware of these feelings and seek support. 

Download our free information sheet - Giant Cell Arteritis

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