Background: The purpose of this study is to describe the nature of cases undergoing temporal artery biopsy (TAB) for suspected giant cell arteritis (GCA). Methods: A retrospective review of case notes was undertaken for all patients on whom ophthalmologists had performed TAB in 2 teaching hospitals between 1995 and 2001. Presenting symptoms, referring specialty, TAB result, treatment, and discharge diagnosis were recorded. Results: Ophthalmologists performed TAB on 110 patients for suspected GCA. A variety of specialties referred patients to ophthalmology for TAB; presenting symptoms varied with referral source. Of the 110 TABs, 21 (19%) were reported as positive for GCA, 84 (76%) were negative, and 5 (4.5%) were reported as inadequate. The symptoms most commonly associated with a positive TAB were visual disturbance (15/21) and headache (15/21).The odds ratios for having a positive TAB result rather than a negative result were 1.0 for the presence of headache, 4.1 for visual disturbance, and 6.7 for jaw claudication. Interpretation: Physicians were faced with a different population of GCA suspects than ophthalmologists. While physicians should be alert to the significance of visual symptoms or jaw claudication, ophthalmologists should be ready to facilitate prompt TABs when appropriate. TAB should be performed promptly and an adequate length of artery taken for biopsy. An argument can be made that TAB is not needed in cases of suspected GCA. However, a positive result provides firm justification for the use of steroids. We feel that TAB has a useful role and we make reference to methods to maximize its usefulness.