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Learning About Temporal Artery Biopsy

Temporal artery with detail of section of artery to be sampled

What is it?

The temporal artery is a blood vessel on the side of your forehead. A temporal artery biopsy is a procedure to remove a section of the artery for testing. It is used to diagnose an inflammation of the blood vessels called giant cell arteritis (GCA). The sample of your artery is sent to a lab. A doctor there will look closely at the artery wall under a microscope for signs of GCA.

GCA mostly affects the arteries that carry blood to the head. It's also called temporal arteritis. That's because it often affects the artery in the temple.

Blood tests and imaging tests (like an MRI or ultrasound) can also help diagnose GCA. But a temporal artery biopsy is the most accurate test.

How is it done?

The doctor will numb the area of your temple where the biopsy will be done. Then they will make a cut (incision) along your temple and find the artery.

Your doctor will remove a small section of the artery. Then the ends that remain will be tied off. This means that the artery will no longer carry blood. But that's okay because the other blood vessels in the area will carry the blood instead.

After the artery sample is taken, the incision will be closed with stitches and covered with a bandage. You may have the procedure on one or both sides of your head. It depends on what your doctor thinks is best.

What happens after the test?

You will probably be able to go home soon after the procedure. You will have a dressing over the cut (incision). A dressing helps the incision heal and protects it. Your doctor will tell you how to take care of this.

It is important to continue all medicines prescribed by your doctor to reduce inflammation while you wait for the biopsy results.

You may have to return to have your stitches removed. If so, your doctor will tell you when you need to come back.

The results of your biopsy will be ready in a few days. But your doctor won't delay treatment while waiting for the results. If your results show no signs of inflammation but your symptoms strongly suggest giant cell arteritis, you and your doctor will discuss the risks and benefits of treatment and of no treatment. Your doctor may suggest a second biopsy. This depends on your symptoms.

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.

Where can you learn more?

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