Temporal artery biopsy

If you have the symptoms of giant cell arteritis (GCA) and your doctor believes you may have it, he or she may order a temporal artery biopsy to make sure.

Giant cell arteritis can occur at various points along an artery. To test for giant cell arteritis, your doctor may have a surgeon take a sample of a blood vessel on your temple and test it for inflammation.

If a temporal artery biopsy shows no signs of inflammation but your symptoms strongly suggest giant cell arteritis, your doctor may:

  • Order another biopsy on the other side of your head.
  • Proceed with treatment without further biopsy testing.

If you are taking high-dose corticosteroids, the biopsy result may not be accurate. In this case, any biopsy testing must be performed as soon as possible, preferably within 2 to 5 days. Biopsies done more than about a week after the start of high-dose corticosteroids may be falsely normal (false-negative).

Last Updated: April 14, 2009

Author: Shannon Erstad, MBA/MPH

Medical Review: Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Richa Dhawan, MD - Rheumatology

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