Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2000;61(7):2073

See related article on giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica.

What is temporal arteritis?

Temporal arteritis is the most common form of giant cell arteritis, a condition in which some arteries become tender and swollen. Arteries are blood vessels that carry oxygen through the body.

Temporal arteritis affects the arteries that are above and in front of the ears on both sides of the head. The symptom most common with temporal arteritis is headache. Some patients might feel pain while chewing or may even lose their eyesight.

Often, a biopsy of the temporal artery is needed to confirm the diagnosis. For this biopsy, a small piece of the temporal artery is removed and looked at under a microscope.

What is polymyalgia rheumatica?

Polymyalgia rheumatica is a condition that causes stiffness and aching in the neck, shoulders, hips and thighs. A physical exam and blood tests are needed to find out if you have this condition.

Temporal arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica are more common in women over the age of 50 than in younger women or in men.

How are temporal arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica treated?

The amount of prednisone prescribed will depend on which condition you have. Once you start taking prednisone, you should feel better quickly. You may need to take this medicine for up to 3 years.

Because prednisone is a strong medicine, your doctor might give you special instructions:

  • Prednisone is usually taken once a day in the morning.

  • Don't stop taking prednisone or decrease the dose without talking to your doctor first. You need to work closely with your doctor while trying to stop treatment. If you stop it abruptly, you will get very sick.

  • If you get sick with another health problem or need to have surgery, you might need to take larger doses of prednisone for awhile.

  • All of your health care providers should know that you are taking prednisone. Some people wear a neck tag or bracelet that says they are taking this medicine.

  • Over time, prednisone can cause thinning of the bones (osteoporosis), cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes and high blood pressure. It might also be a factor in mood swings, weight gain, trouble sleeping or a greater chance of infection. To prevent or treat these problems, your doctor might need to see you more often. You might avoid or lessen some of problems if you eat healthy foods, exercise, avoid smoking and take calcium pills.

For more information, contact Arthritis Foundation, 1330 Peachtree St., Atlanta, GA 30309 (telephone: 1-800-283-7800; Web site:

Information for this handout was adapted from Arthritis information: polymyalgia rheumatica and giant cell arteritis. Atlanta, Arthritis Foundation, 1996.

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