Objective: Survival in patients with giant cell arteritis (GCA) has generally been found to be similar to that of the general population. The aim of our study was to assess outcome and survival of different subgroups of patients with GCA in relation to clinical, biological data or treatment modalities.
Methods: From 1977 and 1995, 176 patients were treated in the Department of Internal Medicine for GCA. The patient, family or local practitioner were contacted prior to the study (July-October 1995). Treatment modalities and follow-up were obtained for 133 patients. All patients (except 11) had 3 or more 1990 ACR classification criteria for GCA. The 11 patients with 2 criteria had a positive temporal biopsy and were included in the study.
Results: Relapse during corticosteroid tapering treatment was observed in 83 patients (62.4%) with a mean 1.57 relapses per patient. No correlation was found in age, sex, initial dose or type of steroid used (i.e. prednisone or prednisolone). Only a slight correlation in the initial erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) was observed (p < 0.01, r = 0.23). In 56 patients free of treatment (mean treatment duration: 40 months), 27 (48%) developed a relapse of the disease 1 to 25 months later. No correlation was found in age, sex, initial dose of steroid, number of relapses during treatment, or initial ESR. Survival analysis was performed using the Kaplan-Meier and Mantel-Menszel methods for comparison of groups. At the time of the study, 41 patients had died (30.7%). A significant reduction of survival was found with the presence of permanent visual loss vs absence (p = 0.04), in patients who required more than 10 mg/d of glucocorticoid (p < 0.001) at 6 months treatment and in patients treated with prednisone (vs prednisolone) (p < 0.01). However, these factors were not independently associated with survival in the multivariate analysis.
Conclusion: Relapse was observed in 62.4% of the patients during corticosteroid tapering (correlated with initial ESR). A relapse of the disease was also observed in 48% of patients 1 to 25 months after the end of the treatment and was associated with prednisolone use. Long term survival was better in patients with no initial ocular manifestations, in patients who took less than 10 mg/day of corticosteroids at 6 months of the treatment and in patients treated with prednisolone.