Background: Inflammatory involvement of extracranial large-sized arteries occurs in 10-20% of patients with giant cell (temporal) arteritis. Aortic involvement may reveal giant cell arteritis or occur as a late-onset complication, and represents one of the most serious manifestation of the disease with the risk of aortic dissection and/or aneurysm rupture. The thoracic aorta is more frequently involved but abdominal aortitis may also occur in giant cell arteritis. To date, few data are available about abdominal aorta changes at the initial stage of giant cell arteritis.
Patients and methods: This prospective monocentric study was conducted between May 1998 and May 2002, and included 30 consecutive patients with biopsy-proven giant cell arteritis. Standard clinical and biological data were collected. Each patient underwent an abdominal aortic Doppler-sonography that looked for aneurysm, ectasia, thickening of the vascular wall, and hypoechoic halo around the aorta.
Results: Among the 30 patients of this study (25 women, 5 men, mean age 68.5 years), 4 (13%) had an abdominal aortic aneurysm, with a low diameter (23 to 27 mm), measuring 2 to 5.5 cm in length. A vascular wall thickening superior or equal to 3 mm was noted in 17 patients (68%). A 4 to 8 mm periaortic hypoechoic halo was found in 10 patients (33%). This halo was present in 3 out of the 4 patients with aneurysm.
Conclusion: Aortic involvement is a potentially serious complication of giant cell arteritis. The question of a systematic screening of this complication remains open to discussion. Our study shows that Doppler sonography may detect morphological abnormalities on the abdominal aorta at the initial stage of giant cell arteritis. These abnormalities comprise mild aneurysms, thickening of the vascular wall and periaortic halo, which could correspond to inflammatory locations of the disease. Complementary studies are needed to assess their specificity and their seriousness.