The fields of giant cell arteritis (GCA) and polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) have advanced rapidly, resulting in a new understanding of these diseases. Fast-track strategies and improved awareness programmes that prevent irreversible sight loss through early diagnosis and treatment are a notable advance. Ultrasonography and other imaging techniques have been introduced into routine clinical practice and there have been promising reports on the efficacy of biologic agents, particularly IL-6 antagonists such as tocilizumab, in treating these conditions. Along with these developments, which should improve outcomes in patients with GCA and PMR, new questions and unmet needs have emerged; future research should address which pathogenetic mechanisms contribute to the different phases and clinical phenotypes of GCA, what role imaging has in the early diagnosis and monitoring of GCA and PMR, and in which patients and phases of these diseases novel biologic drugs should be used. This article discusses the implications of recent developments in our understanding of GCA and PMR, as well as the unmet needs concerning epidemiology, pathogenesis, imaging and treatment of these diseases.