Inflammatory Vasculopathy

Giant Cell Arteritis and Polymyalgia Rheumatica: 2016 Update

Gideon Nesher and Gabriel S. Breuer


Giant cell arteritis (GCA) and polymyalgia rheumatica (PMR) are both more common among people of North European decent than among Mediterranean people. Women are 2–3 times more commonly affected. Giant cell arteritis and PMR are extremely rare before age 50 years. Polymyalgia rheumatica may be “isolated” or associated with GCA. There is increased expression of inflammatory cytokines in temporal arteries of PMR patients, without overt histological evidence of arteritis. One-third of “isolated” PMR patients have vascular uptake in positron emission tomography (PET) scans, suggesting clinically unrecognized, “hidden” GCA. Typical manifestations of GCA are headache, tenderness over temporal arteries, jaw claudication, PMR, acute vision loss, and low-grade fever. Bilateral aching of the shoulders with morning stiffness is typical for PMR. In both conditions sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein are elevated, and anemia and thrombocytosis may occur. Color duplex ultrasonography of the temporal arteries may aid in GCA diagnosis. Temporal artery biopsy showing vasculitis, often with giant cells, confirms GCA diagnosis. In cases with negative biopsy one must rely on the clinical presentation and laboratory abnormalities. The diagnosis of PMR is made primarily on clinical grounds. Other conditions that may mimic GCA or PMR must be excluded. Glucocorticoids are the treatment of choice for both conditions. Prompt treatment is crucial in GCA, to prevent irreversible complications of acute vision loss and stroke. Addition of low-dose aspirin may further prevent these complications. The average duration of treatment is 2–3 years, but some patients require a prolonged course of treatment, and some may develop disease-related or treatment-related complications. No steroid-sparing agent has been proven to be widely effective thus far, but some promising therapeutic agents are currently being studied.

Rambam Maimonides Med J 2016;7(4):e0035