Understanding Temporal Artery Biopsy

Side view of head showing the temporal artery.

A biopsy is a procedure to take small samples of tissue from a site in your body. The tissue is then checked for signs of disease. In a temporal artery biopsy, a healthcare provider will take tissue from 1 or both of your temporal arteries. These are blood vessels in the sides of your forehead (temples).

Why a temporal artery biopsy is done

This kind of biopsy is most often done to see if you have giant cell arteritis. This is when the lining of your arteries become red, swollen, and irritated (inflamed). Giant cell arteritis most often involves the temporal arteries. For this reason, the condition is also known as temporal arteritis. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of giant cell arteritis is important. This is because it can lead to problems such as blindness and stroke.

How temporal artery biopsy is done

The biopsy is often done as an outpatient procedure. This means you go home the same day. The time it takes can vary. During the procedure:

  • The skin over the biopsy site is cleaned. The biopsy site will be your right or left temple.

  • The healthcare provider may use Doppler ultrasound to find the artery. He or she marks the site with a pen.

  • Medicine may be put on the site to numb the skin. Local anesthetic is injected into the area. This helps prevent pain during the biopsy.

  • When the area is numb, the provider makes an incision in the skin of the temple.

  • The provider finds the artery and then clamps or ties off with stitches the section to be used for the biopsy. He or she then cuts a small piece of the artery from this section and removes it. The provider stitches or uses heat to seal the cut edges of the artery.

  • The skin incision is closed with stitches. A pressure bandage may be put over the site.

  • If needed, the provider repeats the procedure in the other temple.

  • The sample of tissue from the artery is sent to a lab. The tissue is checked for signs of giant cell arteritis or other problems.

  • Your healthcare provider will contact you with the results when they are ready.

Risks of temporal artery biopsy

Risks may include:

  • Bleeding

  • Pocket of blood under the skin (hematoma)

  • Infection

  • Scarring or hair loss at the incision site

  • Unable to get a diagnosis

  • Nerve damage

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