Giant cell arteritis (GCA) may involve the aorta. Retrospective studies have demonstrated a higher prevalence of aortic aneurysm among patients with GCA compared with the general population. We investigated the prevalence of aortic aneurysm in a cohort of patients with biopsy-proven GCA using a defined protocol and assessed whether persisting low-grade disease activity is associated with higher risk of developing aortic aneurysm.
Fifty-four patients with GCA (14 men and 40 women) were cross-sectionally evaluated after a median followup of 5.4 years (range 4.0–10.5 years). The screening protocol included a chest radiograph, abdominal ultrasonography scan, and computed tomography scan when aortic aneurysm was suspected or changes with respect to the baseline chest radiograph were observed. Clinical and laboratory data, corticosteroid requirements, and relapses were prospectively recorded.
Twelve patients (22.2%) had significant aortic structural damage (aneurysm/dilatation), 5 of them candidates for surgical repair. Aortic aneurysm/dilatation was more frequent among men (50%) than women (12.5%; relative risk 3.5, 95% confidence interval 1.53–8.01, P = 0.007). At the time of screening, patients with aneurysm/dilatation had lower serum acute-phase reactants, lower relapse rate, and needed shorter periods to withdraw prednisone than patients without aortic structural damage.
There is a substantial risk of developing aortic aneurysm/dilatation among patients with GCA. Our data do not support that aneurysm formation mainly results from persistent detectable disease activity. Additional factors including characteristics of the initial injury or the target tissue may also determine susceptibility to aortic aneurysm/dilatation.