Treatment for GCA consists of high doses — usually 40 to
60 milligrams (mg) — of a corticosteroid drug such as prednisone.
Because immediate treatment is necessary to prevent vision loss, your
doctor is likely to start medication even before confirming the
diagnosis with a biopsy.
You should start feeling better in just a few days, but
you may need to continue taking medication for two years or longer.
After the first month, your doctor may gradually begin to lower the
dosage until you reach the lowest dose of corticosteroids needed to
control inflammation as measured by sed rate and CRP tests. Some of your
symptoms may return during this tapering period.
Corticosteroids are powerful anti-inflammatory drugs whose effects mimic
those of hormones produced by your adrenal glands. The drugs can
effectively relieve pain, but prolonged use — especially at high doses —
can lead to a number of serious side effects.
Older adults, who are most likely to be treated for giant
cell arteritis, are particularly at risk because they're more prone to
certain conditions that also may be caused by corticosteroids. These
Other possible side effects of cortisone therapy include:
Increased blood sugar levels, sometimes leading to diabetes
Thinning skin and increased bruising
Decreased immune system function
Researchers are trying to find therapies that work as well as
corticosteroids but cause fewer side effects. One drug under
investigation is methotrexate, which doctors often use to treat certain
cancers and some inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Other studies have used both methotrexate and prednisone to treat people
with GCA. Preliminary results show that lower doses of prednisone are
possible when the two drugs are combined.
When giant cell arteritis is caught and treated early,
the prognosis is usually excellent. Your symptoms should improve within
just a few hours or days of beginning corticosteroid treatment, and your
vision isn't likely to be affected. Your greatest challenge in this case
may be coping with any side effects of your medication. The following
suggestions may help:
Understand your condition.
Learn everything you can about giant cell arteritis and its
treatment. In addition to talking to your doctor, you may want to
check reliable Web sites, such as the National Heart, Lung and Blood
Institute and the Arthritis Foundation. Know the possible side
effects of any medication you take, and report any changes in your
health to your doctor.
Eat a healthy diet.
Eating well can help prevent potential problems such as thinning
bones, high blood pressure and diabetes. Emphasize fresh fruits and
vegetables, whole grains, and lean meats and fish, while limiting
salt, sugar and alcohol. Be sure to get adequate amounts of
and vitamin D. If you find it hard to get calcium from your diet
because you can't eat dairy products, for example, try calcium
supplements, which are often combined with vitamin D. Calcium from
supplements is just as effective as calcium from food. What's more,
supplements are usually inexpensive, well-tolerated and
well-absorbed if taken properly. Good food sources of calcium
include milk; low-fat plain yogurt; Swiss, cheddar and ricotta
cheeses; broccoli; canned salmon with the bones; and orange juice
and other products, such as tofu, fortified with calcium.
Regular aerobic exercise such as walking or jogging can help prevent
bone loss, high blood pressure and diabetes. It also benefits your
heart and lungs. In addition, many people find that exercise
improves their mood and overall sense of well-being. If you're not
used to exercising, start out slowly and build up gradually, aiming
for at least 30 minutes on most days. Your doctor can help you plan
an exercise program that's right for you.