Glucocorticoid (GC) therapy for giant cell arteritis (GCA) is effective but requires prolonged administration, resulting in adverse side effects. The goal of the current study was to test the hypothesis that induction treatment with high-dose pulse intravenous (IV) methylprednisolone permits a shorter course of therapy.
Twenty-seven patients with biopsy-proven GCA were enrolled in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to receive IV methylprednisolone (15 mg/kg of ideal body weight/day) or IV saline for 3 consecutive days. All patients were started on 40 mg/day prednisone and followed the same tapering schedule as long as disease activity was controlled. The numbers of patients with disease in remission after 36, 52, and 78 weeks of treatment and taking ≤5 mg/day prednisone were compared. Cumulative prednisone dose, number of relapses, and development of adverse GC effects were assessed.
Ten of the 14 IV GC–treated patients, but only 2 of 13 control patients, were taking ≤5 mg/day prednisone at 36 weeks (P = 0.003). This difference was maintained; there was a higher number of sustained remissions after discontinuation of treatment in the IV GC–treated group and a lower median daily dose of prednisone at 78 weeks (P = 0.0004). The median cumulative dose of oral prednisone, excluding the IV GC dose, was 5,636 mg in the IV GC–treated group compared with 7,860 mg in the IV saline–treated group (P = 0.001).
Initial treatment of GCA with IV GC pulses allowed for more rapid tapering of oral GCs and had long-term benefits, with a higher frequency of patients experiencing sustained remission of their disease after discontinuation of treatment.