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Self-help and daily living for giant cell arteritis (GCA)

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There are no particular foods that you should avoid if you have giant cell arteritis (GCA), but you should make sure you eat a healthy diet, containing plenty of calcium and vitamin D.

The richest sources of calcium are:

  • dairy products (milk, cheese, yogurt)
  • calcium-enriched soya milk
  • fish that are eaten with the bones (e.g. sardines).

Leafy green vegetables, beans, chick peas and some nuts and dried fruits also contain calcium. We recommend a daily intake of calcium of 1,000 milligrams (mg) or 1,500 mg if you’re over 60.

Vitamin D is needed for the body to absorb calcium, and is normally produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. However, it can also be obtained from food, especially from oily fish or supplements. Vitamin D is often added to soya milks and vegetable-based margarines. For many people, the most convenient way of getting enough vitamin D is to take supplements.

Rest and exercise

You should keep as fit and active as you can. This helps prevent osteoporosis, and may help to avoid weight gain and muscle weakness caused by steroid tablets.

Fatigue can be a major problem for some people even when on treatment. This can be a difficult symptom to manage, but some people find that gradual, well-paced exercise can help. Pacing and planning activities and setting realistic, achievable goals can improve your energy levels and well-being. If fatigue becomes a significant problem for you, an assessment with a specialist nurse or occupational therapist might help.

Help and support

People with GCA usually look well, even when the condition is severe (some of this may be due to the treatment with steroids). Because of this, friends and family may not understand why you feel unwell or find some things difficult. Some people also find it hard to come to terms with managing a long-term condition.

If GCA has caused partial or total loss of sight, this impairment should be registered to make sure you’re offered the benefits and support you’re entitled to.

Support and advice is available from a number of different organisations. There are also local self-help and patient support groups around the country.

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