Objective: To identify variables that distinguish large-vessel giant cell arteritis (GCA) with subclavian/axillary/brachial artery involvement from cranial GCA.
Methods: Seventy-four case patients with subclavian/axillary GCA diagnosed by angiography and 74 control patients with temporal artery biopsy-proven GCA without large vessel involvement matched for the date of first diagnosis were identified. Pertinent initial symptoms, time delay until diagnosis, and clinical symptoms, as well as clinical and laboratory findings at the time of diagnosis, were recorded by retrospective chart review. Expression of cytokine messenger RNA in temporal artery tissue from patients with large-vessel and cranial GCA was determined by semiquantitative polymerase chain reaction analysis. Distribution of disease-associated HLA-DRB1 alleles in patients with aortic arch syndrome and cranial GCA was assessed.
Results: The clinical presentation distinguished patients with large-vessel GCA from those with classic cranial GCA. Upper extremity vascular insufficiency dominated the clinical presentation of patients with large-vessel GCA, whereas symptoms related to impaired cranial blood flow were infrequent. Temporal artery biopsy findings were negative in 42% of patients with large-vessel GCA. Polymyalgia rheumatica occurred with similar frequency in both patient groups. Large-vessel GCA was associated with higher concentrations of interleukin-2 gene transcripts in arterial tissue and overrepresentation of the HLA-DRB1*0404 allele, indicating differences in pathogenetic mechanisms.
Conclusion: GCA is not a single entity but includes several variants of disease. Large-vessel GCA produces a distinct spectrum of clinical manifestations and often occurs without involvement of the cranial arteries. Large-vessel GCA requires a different approach to the diagnosis and probably also to treatment.