Objective: To determine the features and outcomes of patients with giant cell arteritis (GCA) who have aneurysms or rupture of the thoracic aorta.
Methods: Patients with GCA seen over a 40-year period who had aneurysms and/or rupture of the thoracic aorta were identified by assistance of a computerized indexing system. The presence of thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAA), with or without aortic valve insufficiency (AI), was determined by radiographs, computed tomography scans, and ultrasound studies of the thorax, angiograms of the aorta, and postmortem examination.
Results: Ten men and 31 women with GCA were found to have TAA and/or rupture. Three developed TAA before GCA was diagnosed, 5 developed aortic findings near the time of the diagnosis, and 33 after the diagnosis of GCA (median of 7 years after diagnosis). Sixteen patients developed acute aortic dissection, which caused death in 8. Nineteen patients also had AI due to aortic root dilation, 15 of whom developed congestive heart failure. Eighteen patients underwent 21 surgical procedures for TAA resection and/or aortic valve replacement or repair. Aortitis was documented histologically in 10 cases.
Conclusion: Thoracic aortic complications in GCA are associated with serious outcomes that have been underrecognized and may be fatal. Physicians should be alert to the development of these complications at any time in the course of GCA, even many years after usual symptoms have subsided.