Probability-based algorithm using ultrasound and additional tests for suspected GCA in a fast-track clinic

RMD Open. 2020 Sep;6(3):e001297. doi: 10.1136/rmdopen-2020-001297.


Objectives: Clinical presentations of giant cell arteritis (GCA) are protean, and it is vital to make a secure diagnosis and exclude mimics for urgent referrals with suspected GCA. The main objective was to develop a joined-up, end-to-end, fast-track confirmatory/exclusionary, algorithmic process based on a probability score triage to drive subsequent investigations with ultrasound (US) and any appropriate additional tests as required.

Methods: The algorithm was initiated by stratifying patients to low-risk category (LRC), intermediate-risk category (IRC) and high-risk category (HRC). Retrospective data was extracted from case records. The Southend pretest probability score (PTPS) overall showed a median score of 9 and a 75th percentile score of 12. We, therefore, classified LRC as PTPS <9, IRC 9-12 and HRC >12. GCA diagnosis was made by a combination of clinical, US, and laboratory findings. The algorithm was assessed in all referrals seen in 2018-2019 to test the diagnostic performance of US overall and in individual categories.

Results: Of 354 referrals, 89 had GCA with cases categorised as LRC (151), IRC (137) and HRC (66). 250 had US, whereas 104 did not (score <7, and/or high probability of alternative diagnoses). In HRC, US showed sensitivity 94%, specificity 85%, accuracy 92% and GCA prevalence 80%. In LRC, US showed sensitivity undefined (0/0), specificity 98%, accuracy 98% and GCA prevalence 0%. In IRC, US showed sensitivity 100%, specificity 97%, accuracy 98% and GCA prevalence 26%. In the total population, US showed sensitivity 97%, specificity 97% and accuracy 97%. Prevalence of GCA overall was 25%.

Conclusions: The Southend PTPS successfully stratifies fast-track clinic referrals and excludes mimics. The algorithm interprets US in context, clarifies a diagnostic approach and identifies uncertainty, need for re-evaluation and alternative tests. Test performance of US is significantly enhanced with PTPS.

Keywords: Giant Cell Arteritis; Glucocorticoids; Ultrasonography.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Giant Cell Arteritis*
  • Humans
  • Probability
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Ultrasonography