Long-term follow-up of upper and lower extremity vasculitis related to giant cell arteritis: a series of 36 patients

Medicine (Baltimore). 2011 Jan;90(1):40-51. doi: 10.1097/MD.0b013e318206af16.


We conducted this retrospective study to determine the prevalence of giant cell arteritis (GCA) in patients exhibiting nonatherosclerotic upper and/or lower extremity arterial involvement and to evaluate the clinical features and long-term outcome of those patients.From January 1997 to March 2008, 36 consecutive patients in the Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Rouen medical center received a diagnosis of symptomatic upper/lower extremity vasculitis related to GCA. In the 36 patients, upper/lower extremity vasculitis preceded the initial GCA diagnosis in 7 patients (19.4%), it was identified in association with GCA in 13 patients (36.1%), and it developed after the onset of GCA in the remaining 16 patients (44.4%). GCA clinical manifestations were severe resulting in ischemic complications of the extremities in 10 patients (27.8%). GCA-related large-vessel involvement was located in the upper extremity alone in 21 patients (58.3%), the lower extremity alone in 7 patients (19.4%), and both the upper and lower extremities in 8 patients (22.2%).Arterial involvement in GCA patients with upper extremity vasculitis was distributed in the subclavian (55.6%), axillary (47.2%), and brachial (22.2%) arteries. In patients with lower extremity vasculitis, involvement included the internal iliac artery (11.1%), common femoral artery (13.9%), superficial femoral artery (33.3%), deep femoral artery (5.6%), and popliteal and anterior tibial arteries (5.6%). Aortic localizations were common in GCA patients with upper/lower extremity vasculitis (68.9% of cases).All patients were given steroid therapy at a median daily dose of 1 mg/kg initially. Reconstructive study was performed in 10 patients (27.8%): venous bypass graft (n = 6), angioplasty (n = 1), thromboendarteriectomy (n = 2), or thrombectomy (n = 1); 2 other patients with extremity ischemia underwent amputation. The median observation time was 32 months; the outcome of upper/lower extremity vasculitis was disappearance of clinical symptoms (44.4%), improvement of clinical manifestations (44.4%), and deterioration of clinical manifestations (11.1%). At last follow-up, the median daily dose of prednisone was 6 mg. Steroid therapy could be discontinued in 12 patients (33.3%).We found that upper/lower extremity vasculitis is not uncommon in patients with GCA, and may be present in the early acute phase of GCA. Nevertheless, because upper/lower extremity vasculitis occurs during the course of GCA, yearly clinical vascular examinations may be adequate to screen for upper/lower extremity vasculitis at an early stage in GCA patients. Early diagnosis of GCA-related upper/lower extremity vasculitis is crucial, and can result in decreased severe ischemic complications. Because aortic localizations were common, GCA patients with upper/lower extremity vasculitis should undergo routine investigations for underlying life-threatening aortic complications (aortic ectasia/aneurysm). We also suggest that patients exhibiting aortic complications should undergo routine clinical vascular examination to detect upper/lower extremity vasculitis.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Diagnostic Imaging
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • France / epidemiology
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / complications*
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / diagnosis
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / epidemiology
  • Giant Cell Arteritis / therapy
  • Humans
  • Lower Extremity / blood supply*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Upper Extremity / blood supply*
  • Vasculitis / complications*
  • Vasculitis / diagnosis
  • Vasculitis / epidemiology
  • Vasculitis / therapy