The use of temporal artery ultrasound in the diagnosis of giant cell arteritis in routine practice


Correspondence: Associate Professor Catherine L. Hill, Rheumatology Department, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woodville Road, Woodville South, South Australia, 5011, Australia. Email:



The exact diagnostic role of temporal artery ultrasound (TAU) remains unclear. The aim of this study was to determine the sensitivity and specificity of a positive halo sign in patients undergoing TAU in a clinical setting, and to perform a review of existing evidence.


Patients who had undergone TAU at a single centre in Australia were included in the study. The presence or absence of a halo sign and whether it was unilateral or bilateral was determined retrospectively from radiology reports. Pathology results were used to determine which patients underwent a temporal artery biopsy and if the biopsy was positive or negative. A case note review was performed to determine presenting clinical features and if a clinical diagnosis of giant cell arteritis was made. The sensitivity, specificity and likelihood ratios of TAU compared to both biopsy and clinical diagnosis were calculated.


Fifty patients were identified as having had a TAU (28% male, mean age 69). When compared to biopsy-proven cases, the sensitivity of a halo sign was 40%, specificity 81%, positive likelihood ratio 2.1 and negative likelihood ratio 0.7. When compared to clinical diagnosis, the sensitivity was 42%, specificity 94%, positive likelihood ratio 7.1 and negative likelihood 0.6.


Sensitivity and specificity results were comparable to the literature. A halo sign may preclude the need for biopsy in cases of high clinical suspicion and contraindications to surgery. Biopsy remains necessary in most cases, irrespective of whether a halo sign is present.