Temporal artery biopsy in a dermatologic surgery practice

Dermatol Surg. 1999 Jun;25(6):501-8. doi: 10.1046/j.1524-4725.1999.08296.x.


Background: A positive temporal artery biopsy (TAB) is essential to the diagnosis of temporal arteritis. Both this relatively common disease and its prolonged treatment with corticosteroids are associated with serious sequelae. Therefore, accurate and timely diagnosis is critical. The dermatologic surgery literature lacks a description of this straightforward surgical technique, as TABs are most often performed by ophthalmologists.

Objective: As a service to our rheumatology department we began performing TABs on a same-day on-call basis in July 1996.

Methods: We have performed 45 TABs in a 22-month period using a simple, safe, time-efficient technique. We review the surgical anatomy and danger zone of the temporal region and potential complications. We describe the biopsy technique which aims at safely obtaining a greater than 2 cm segment of a peripheral branch of the superficial temporal artery (STA), identified preoperatively by doppler ultrasonography.

Results: The procedure was performed on the day requested in all cases. Intraoperative time ranged from 20 to 40 minutes. TAB established the diagnosis of temporal arteritis in 8 of 44 biopsies (18%) and in 7 of 35 patients (20%), including 1 of 9 patients in whom we performed bilateral TAB. One patient was diagnosed with small-vessel polyarteritis nodosa by TAB. The mean formalin-fixed length of the arterial specimen was 2.2 cm. The length did not vary between positive and negative specimens. There were no complications and the cosmetic results were excellent.

Conclusion: TAB is a quick, safe, straightforward, and gratifying office procedure which dermatologic surgeons are very qualified to perform.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy / methods
  • Dermatology / methods
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • General Surgery / methods
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Temporal Arteries / pathology*