Temporal Arteritis Biopsies & Treatment

Temporal arteritis is also called giant cell arteritis and arteritic ischemic optic neuropathy. It is a disease that causes inflammation in the arteries. When arteries are inflamed, they don’t carry blood to your body parts very well. This can cause headache, pain in your jaw with chewing, double vision. blurred vision, weakness in your shoulders and hips, fatigue, fevers and feeling unwell. If it is not treated, temporal arteritis can cause blindness, stroke or even death.

Example of Temporal Arteritis

Source: Dr. Bursztyn

How do I know I have temporal arteritis?

The symptoms of temporal arteritis can be very similar to many different diseases. Your doctor will try to sort it out by doing an eye exam and getting some blood work. The only way to know for sure is to do a biopsy of the temporal artery.

What is a temporal artery biopsy?

This is a biopsy of the artery running through your temple is done to see if you have temporal arteritis or not. Your surgeon will find a good blood vessel to sample and then inject some freezing around it. The skin is opened and once the artery is found, a section is removed to be examined under a microscope. The wound is then closed with stitches or staples. The biopsy is only a small piece of the artery, and your other blood vessels can easily take over for the missing piece. You can go home after the procedure.

What are the risks of a temporal artery biopsy?

As with any surgery, there is a risk of infection or bleeding. There will be a scar when the skin was opened. There is a nerve that runs through your temple that moves your eyebrow. It is possible, but very unlikely that this nerve could be damaged causing a droopy eyebrow. Sometimes the pathologist looking at the sample can’t tell if there is disease or not and you may need to have a second biopsy. Some surgeons always take a sample from both temples just to be sure that they get a good one.

How do you treat temporal arteritis?

The only proven treatment for temporal arteritis is a steroid drug called Prednisone. It works well but it has a lot of side effects, and the treatment usually lasts for a year or more. Stopping treatment early can cause the disease to come back, so it is important to stay on Prednisone until the disease is fully treated.