Understanding Temporal Artery Biopsy

Side view of head showing the temporal artery.

A biopsy is a procedure used to remove samples of tissue from a site in your body. During a temporal artery biopsy, the healthcare provider will remove a small sample of tissue from one or both of your temporal arteries. These arteries are located in the sides of your forehead (temples).

Why a temporal artery biopsy is done

A temporal artery biopsy is most often done to confirm a diagnosis of giant cell arteritis. This condition occurs 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 called temporal arteritis. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of giant cell arteritis is important because the condition can lead to problems such as blindness and stroke.

How temporal artery biopsy is done

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

  • The skin over the biopsy site (left or right temple) is cleaned.

  • The healthcare provider uses Doppler ultrasound imaging to locate the artery, if needed. He or she marks the site with a pen.

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

  • When the area is numb, the provider makes an incision over the temporal artery.

  • Once the artery is located, the provider clamps or ties off with stitches (sutures) the section to be used for the biopsy. He or she than cuts a small piece of the artery from this section and removes it. The provider sutures or cauterizes the remaining ends of the artery.

  • The skin incision is closed with sutures. A pressure bandage may be placed 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 to be checked for giant cell arteritis (or any other problems).

  • Your healthcare provider will get in touch with you about the results when they are ready.

Risks of temporal artery biopsy

  • Bleeding and collection of blood under the skin (hematoma)

  • Infection

  • Scarring or hair loss at the incision site

  • Unable to get a diagnosis