Giant cell arteritis


Americans are estimated to have giant cell arteritis.

Age 50

Giant cell arteritis occurs almost exclusively in persons aged 50 or older.

19 in 100K

The annual incidence of GCA in the US is estimated to be 18.9 per 100,000.

What is giant cell arteritis?

Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune conditions occur when the body’s immune system mistakes its own tissues for foreign invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. The confused immune system springs into action, seeking out to destroy the “invaders” in the tissues. 

The immune system of people with GCA mistakenly attacks the lining of healthy blood vessels, also called arteries. This results in inflammation and swelling, which makes your blood vessels more narrow and then makes it more difficult for blood to travel to your body’s tissues. 

Swelling caused by GCA most often occurs in the head and neck, and results in pain, tenderness, and stiffness in those areas.

Who is affected?

It is very rare that you will be diagnosed with giant cell arteritis if you are younger than 50 years old. The condition generally affects older individuals, with the average age of diagnosis at 72 years old. [1] Women have a higher risk of developing GCA when compared with men. [2]


There isn’t a single cause of giant cell arteritis, but there are a number of factors that might make you more at risk of developing the condition. Some of these factors include family history and other medical conditions such as polymyalgia rheumatica. [1]

What happens in your body?

Common symptoms of giant cell arteritis include: [1] [3] [4]

  • Headache and severe head pain, usually in the temple area
  • Tenderness of the scalp
  • Jaw pain when chewing or opening your mouth widely
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Throat or tongue pain
  • Blurred vision, double vision, or vision loss

How do I know if I have giant cell arteritis?

Giant cell arteritis symptoms are similar to the symptoms of other conditions, so it can take some time to diagnose it. But it is important to visit your primary care doctor and get an accurate diagnosis as quickly as possible to make sure that the condition does not worsen.

Some ways that your doctor can assess whether you have the condition is through reviewing your medical history, conducting a physical examination, asking about your symptoms, and administering medical tests (such as blood tests, imaging tests, and biopsies).

How is it treated?

There is no known cure for spondyloarthritis, but integrative interventions have shown to reduce pain and discomfort and improve quality of life by slowing the condition’s progression and easing the severity of symptoms. [5]

Integrative interventions offer a holistic approach to treatment. Instead of just conventional medicine, integrative treatments combine conventional medicine with nutritional tools, mind-body medicine, and manual medicine for a holistic approach to treating giant cell arteritis.

For those new to integrative medicine, learn more here

Conventional Medicine

Many people with giant cell arteritis find that certain medications work for them and others do not. So, in order to find an effective conventional treatment, people with giant cell arteritis often work with their doctors to determine which medication works best with their body and needs. 

With the right medication, it is possible to manage symptoms and prevent the rapid worsening of the condition. Before starting to take any medication, be sure to ask your doctor about possible side effects. And if you notice any of the side effects once you start your treatment, let your doctor know as soon as possible.

Examples of conventional treatments:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (common name: ibuprofen), or NSAIDs, are the most commonly used treatments for inflammation and pain. They can ease head pain and tenderness caused by giant cell arteritis. [2] [3] [6]

  • Analgesics (common name: aspirin) are intended to relieve pain, and are often recommended for patients who have previously experienced negative side effects when taking NSAIDs. [2] [3] [6]

  • Glucocorticoids (also known as corticosteroids) are steroid drugs that can be taken by mouth or injection, and are meant to start working immediately to reduce pain and inflammation caused by giant cell arteritis. [2] [3] [6]

  • Biologics (also known as biologic response modifiers), such as tocilizumab, are a class of drugs that can reduce GCA symptoms and the frequency of relapses. [2] [3] [6]

Mind-Body Medicine

Research shows that gentle, low-intensity mind-body treatments can help GCA  patients with mobility, mood, decreased pain, and more. There are a wide variety of mind-body treatments for giant cell arteritis, ranging from deep breathing to aqua-therapy.

When living with chronic pain, engaging in regular movement and exercise may feel difficult and unnecessary. But doing so can actually improve your symptoms. 

Before starting a physical exercise regimen, consult with your doctor about what might be the best activities for you and your body.

Examples of mind-body medicine:

  • Tai chi is a Chinese practice of slow, low-intensity movements that researchers have found can improve mobility, functionality, and psychological health in patients with chronic conditions.

  • Yoga comes in many different styles, often engaging both the body and the mind through controlled breathing and stretching.

  • Gentle exercise programs guided by instructors who understand your condition can help you both lose weight and manage your symptoms.

Manual Medicine

Manual treatments are administered by certified therapists, using physical pressure and stimulation on the body to reduce psoriatic arthritis symptoms. Treatments can vary in intensity and incorporate other elements such as heat and aromatherapy to enhance relief.

Nutritional Tools

Nutrition plays a crucial role in your overall health, and is a tool you can use to reduce inflammation and manage other giant cell arteritis symptoms. 

Just like with conventional, mind-body, and manual medicines, there is not one ideal treatment for every GCA patient. When selecting nutritional tools to treat your condition, it is best to consult with your doctor or work with a dietitian, naturopath, or nutritionist to find out the best diet for you.

Examples of nutritional tools:

  • Anti-inflammatory diets

    • Anti-inflammatory diets include nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants and intend to reduce inflammation in the body. A popular anti-inflammatory diet is the Mediterranean diet which has been shown to reduce signs of inflammation.

  • Plant-based diets

    • Vegetarian and vegan diets have shown to promote gut health, which may have an anti-inflammatory impact.

  • Elimination diet

    • While some foods can help reduce symptoms, other foods may trigger them. An elimination diet, which is an eating plan that eliminates certain foods or food groups believed to be causing negative bodily reactions, can help you figure out which foods are triggering those symptoms and bring you closer to your ideal diet.

  • Fish

    • Research suggests that eating fish may reduce inflammation for those with rheumatoid arthritis; they may help with symptoms of giant cell arteritis.

    • Recommendation: Eat three to four ounces of fish (salmon, tuna, sardines, anchovies, or other cold-water fish) twice a week.

  • Fruits and vegetables

    • Fruits and vegetables have antioxidants, which support your immune system and may fight inflammation.

    • Recommendation: Eat one and a half to two cups of fruit (like blueberries, blackberries, cherries, and strawberries) and two to three cups of vegetables (like spinach, kale, and broccoli) per meal.

  • Nuts

    • Nuts are rich in healthy fat, protein, and fiber, and help fight inflammation.

    • Recommendation: Eat one and a half ounces–about a handful–of nuts (like walnuts, pine nuts, pistachios, and almonds) per day.

  • Beans

    • Beans (like red, pinto, navy, and black beans) are rich in fiber and protein, and are full of both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties.

    • Recommendation: Eat at least one cup of beans per week.

  • Olive oil

    • This heart-healthy ingredient contains healthy fat, antioxidants, and oleocanthal, an anti-inflammatory compound.  

    • Recommendation: Consume two to three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day by using it in your cooking or salad dressings.

  • Onions

    • These simple, flavor-rich vegetables are packed with antioxidants and may help reduce inflammation, improve heart health, and help control cholesterol levels.

  • Fiber

    • Fiber is found in foods like beans, whole grain breads, and fresh vegetables. It makes you feel fuller for longer and boosts digestive health. It also may help reduce inflammation.

    • Recommendation: Incorporate a good mix of insoluble fiber (from vegetables, wheat, and seeds) and soluble fiber (from fruits and oats) in your diet or try fiber supplements.

  • Fish oils

    • Fish oils may reduce inflammation. Early research has shown promise that fish oils may help reduce the symptoms of giant cell arteritis.   

  • Turmeric

    • Research conducted at MD Anderson, amongst many, has shown the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric extend beyond its key compound (curcumin) and may have many applications as an anti-inflammatory compound.   

    • Recommendation: Turmeric is a popular spice which you can add to any food or drink (like vegetables, rice, tea, or smoothies). Add it to your meals or take it in supplement form. Some supplements combine turmeric curcumin with black pepper for enhanced absorption and greater health benefits.

  • Folic acid

    • Folic and folinic acid supplements have been shown to improve liver function and ease gastrointestinal intolerance (the digestive system’s difficulty processing certain foods, which can lead stomach pain and bloating). Researchers in Spain have shown that folic acid may help patients with giant cell arteritis.

  • Vitamin D

    • Vitamin D supplements are good for bone health, and they can also help keep the immune system functioning properly.

  • Antioxidants

    • Selenium supplements can help keep your immune system functioning properly and prevent cell damage (also known as oxidative stress).

    • Studies show that other antioxidants that can help prevent cell damage and keep the body in a balanced state are vitamin A and vitamin C.

  • Probiotics

    • Chronic conditions and medications can have a negative impact on gut health. Studies show probiotic supplements may help improve gut health and even lead to lower levels of inflammation.

  • Green tea extract

    • Studies show green tea extract (GTE) may help reduce overall inflammation.

  • [1] Giant Cell Arteritis. Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center. Published August 1, 2014. Accessed July 27, 2020. 
  • [2] Nordborg E, Nordborg C. Giant cell arteritis: epidemiological clues to its pathogenesis and an update on its treatment. OUP Academic. Published March 1, 2003. Accessed July 27, 2020. 
  • [3] Giant cell arteritis. Mayo Clinic. Published September 27, 2018. Accessed July 27, 2020. 
  • [4] Giant Cell Arteritis. Accessed July 27, 2020. 
  • [5] Hall JK, Balcer LJ. Giant Cell Arteritis. Curr Treat Options Neurol. 2004;6(1):45-53. doi:10.1007/s11940-004-0038-z 
  • [6] Low C, Conway R. Current advances in the treatment of giant cell arteritis: the role of biologics. Ther Adv Musculoskelet Dis. 2019;11:1759720X19827222. Published 2019 Feb 13. doi:10.1177/1759720X19827222 
  • [7] Babigumira, J. B., Li, M., Boudreau, D. M., Best, J. H., & Garrison, L. P. (2017). Estimating the Cost of Illness of Giant Cell Arteritis in the United States. Rheumatology and Therapy, 4(1), 111-119. doi:10.1007/s40744-017-0052-8 
The information on this page is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your physician or health provider for your specific needs.
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