Classically, patients with giant cell arteritis (GCA) present with cranial ischemic manifestations that are directly related to vascular involvement. However, a variable proportion of GCA patients may present without obvious vascular manifestations. Since a high index of suspicion of this condition in individuals over the age of 50 years is needed to prevent the development of severe complications, we have studied the different patterns of disease presentation in a series of 240 patients with biopsy-proven GCA diagnosed at the single hospital for the well-defined population of Lugo, Spain, between January 1, 1981, and June 15, 2004. During the study period, 203 (86.4%) GCA patients presented with headache. Patients with headache were found to have an abnormal temporal artery on physical examination more commonly than the other GCA patients (79.8% versus 35.1%; p < 0.001). Compared with the other GCA patients, those who presented with polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) were younger (73.4 +/- 6.3 versus 75.6 +/- 6.9 yr; p = 0.013) and had a longer delay to diagnosis (13.4 +/- 12.2 versus 8.3 +/- 10.0 wk; p = 0.013). One hundred thirty-one (54.6%) patients presented with severe ischemic manifestations. Abnormal temporal artery on physical examination (odds ratio, 2.25) and anemia at the time of disease diagnosis (odds ratio, 0.53) were found to be the best predictors for severe ischemic manifestations of GCA. Eighteen (7.5%) patients presented without overt ischemic manifestations of GCA. Patients younger than 70 years of age at the time of diagnosis had a longer delay to diagnosis and exhibited PMR more commonly than older patients. Our observations confirm the presence of different disease patterns of clinical presentation in GCA and emphasize the importance of an abnormal temporal artery on physical examination and anemia as factors that may predict the risk of severe ischemic complications related to GCA.