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Giant Cell Arteritis (GCA): Care Instructions

Inflamed temporal artery.


Giant cell arteritis is an inflammation of blood vessels leading to your head and eyes. It usually affects people older than 50. It is more common in women. This condition is also called temporal arteritis.

GCA causes a dull, throbbing headache on one side of the head around the eye or near the temple. Sometimes the pain feels like stabbing or burning. It may also cause jaw pain and vision loss.

GCA is treated right away to prevent blindness. Your doctor will prescribe steroids that you take as pills. The steroids can also be given to you through a needle in your vein. Most symptoms should get better quickly, usually in 1 to 3 days. But if you have vision loss, it isn't likely to improve with treatment. You may need to take medicine for more than 2 years to prevent problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems with your medicine.
  • If you are on long-term steroids, talk to your doctor about taking a daily vitamin containing calcium and vitamin D. This can prevent bone thinning caused by the steroids.
  • Get regular, gentle exercise to keep your bones strong and prevent bone loss. Walking is a good choice. Exercise can also help you cope with the illness.
  • Don't smoke, and avoid being around tobacco smoke.
  • Make sure you get all recommended vaccines. Taking steroids can weaken your immune system, and vaccines can help protect you from getting sick.
  • Tell any health professional that cares for you that you are taking steroids. You may want to wear medical alert jewellery that lists this medicine.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have signs of a ruptured aortic aneurysm, such as:
    • Signs of shock. These may include passing out or feeling very dizzy, weak, or less alert.
    • Sudden, severe pain.
    • Sudden weakness in the leg or foot on one side of the body.
    • Chest, belly, or back pain you have not had before.

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your symptoms start to return.
  • You get new headaches.
  • You have nausea or heartburn.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • You do not get better as expected.
  • You have side effects of your steroid medicine, such as:
    • Weight gain.
    • Mood changes.
    • Trouble sleeping.
    • Bruising easily.

Where can you learn more?

Go to

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.