Background: Ultrasonography of temporal arteries is not commonly used in the approach of patients with suspected giant cell arteritis (GCA) in clinical practice. A meta-analysis of primary studies available through April 2004 concluded that ultrasonography could indeed be helpful in diagnosing GCA. We specifically re-examined the diagnostic value of the ultrasonography-derived halo sign, a dark hypoechoic circumferential thickening around the artery lumen, indicating vasculitic wall edema, in GCA.
Methods: Original, prospective studies in patients with suspected GCA that examined ultrasonography findings of temporal arteries using the ACR 1990 classification criteria for GCA as reference standard, published through 2009, were identified. Only eight studies involving 575 patients, 204 of whom received the final diagnosis of GCA, fulfilled technical quality criteria for ultrasound. Weighted sensitivity and specificity estimates of the halo sign were assessed, their possible heterogeneity was investigated and pooled diagnostic odds ratio was determined.
Results: Unilateral halo sign achieved an overall sensitivity of 68% (95% CI, 0.61-0.74) and specificity of 91% (95% CI, 0.88-0.94) for GCA. The values of inconsistency coefficient (I2) of both sensitivity and specificity of the halo sign, showed significant heterogeneity concerning the results between studies. Pooled diagnostic odds ratio, expressing how much greater the odds of having GCA are for patients with halo sign than for those without, was 34 (95% CI, 8.21-138.23). Diagnostic odds ratio was further increased to 65 (95% CI, 17.86-236.82) when bilateral halo signs were present (sensitivity/specificity of 43% and 100%, respectively). In both cases, it was found that DOR was constant across studies.
Conclusion: Temporal artery edema demonstrated as halo sign should be always looked for in ultrasonography when GCA is suspected. Providing that currently accepted technical quality criteria are fulfilled, halo sign's sensitivity and specificity are comparable to those of autoantibodies used as diagnostic tests in rheumatology. Validation of revised GCA classification criteria which will include the halo sign may be warranted.