Presenting features and outcomes in patients undergoing temporal artery biopsy. A review of 98 patients

Arch Intern Med. 1992 Aug;152(8):1690-5.


Background: Although temporal arteritis is a well-recognized syndrome, controversy still exists regarding the optimal approach to diagnosis and treatment of this condition. We undertook this review to further define the spectrum of presenting features and outcomes of patients undergoing temporal artery biopsy.

Methods: We reviewed the records of all patients undergoing temporal artery biopsy over a 5-year period. Presenting features were compared in biopsy-positive and biopsy-negative patients. In patients with positive biopsy specimens, treatment regimens, disease, treatment-related morbidity, and outcomes were recorded. Alternative diagnoses and therapy were reviewed in biopsy-negative patients.

Results: Of 98 patients, 30 had positive and 68 had negative biopsy specimens. Biopsy-positive patients had an increased incidence of headache (93% vs 62%), jaw claudication (50% vs 18%), and prior polymyalgia rheumatica (23% vs 3%), but the sensitivity and specificity of these indicators were relatively low. Other clinical and laboratory parameters, including prior steroids and erythrocyte sedimentation rate, were similar between the two groups. In 30 patients with positive biopsy specimens, response to initial high-dose steroid was excellent. Serious manifestations after initial treatment were not seen, but mild flares were common after 1 year of therapy. Steroid-related morbidity was common, and steroids were seldom discontinued (0/22 patients at 1 year, 6/19 patients at 2 years, 5/11 patients at 3 years). In 68 patients with negative biopsy specimens, alternative diagnoses included neurologic diseases (15 patients), "pure" polymyalgia rheumatica (14 patients), and other inflammatory rheumatologic diseases (10 patients). Fourteen patients with negative biopsy specimens were treated for temporal arteritis, and were similar to biopsy-positive patients.

Conclusions: Temporal arteritis remains a challenging condition to diagnose and to treat. Presenting features are seldom helpful in predicting biopsy results. Initial treatment is effective but frequently toxic. Although late disease-related complications are rare, most patients continue to take long-term low-dose steroid therapy.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / adverse effects
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Age Factors
  • Biopsy
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / complications
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / drug therapy
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / epidemiology
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sex Factors
  • Temporal Arteries / pathology*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones