Objective: To assess the longterm survival of patients with giant cell arteritis (GCA) in a well defined area in Northwestern Spain.
Methods: A followup study of consecutive biopsy proven patients with GCA diagnosed in Lugo, Spain January 1, 1982-March 31, 1996 was performed. Patients were followed from time of diagnosis until either their death or October 1, 1996. Time and cause of death were reviewed. Statistical methods included standardized mortality ratio (SMR), and Kaplan-Meier product-limit survival analysis. Cox proportional hazard models were used to identify clinical features and laboratory findings associated with survival.
Results: By October 1, 1996, full information about 109 biopsy proven patients with GCA (59 men/50 women) was available. The mean age +/- SD at the time of diagnosis was 73.9 +/- 7.3 years for women and 74.1 +/- 5.8 for men (p = NS). After a median followup of 54 months, 22 patients (20.2%) had died. Three died within the first month after diagnosis due to either vascular complications related to GCA or therapy complications. Apart from a history of severe underlying diseases (comorbid condition unrelated to GCA), neither sex nor any clinical features of GCA were significantly associated with an increase in mortality. As in the general population of the same age in Lugo, the majority of deaths were due to cardiovascular and cerebrovascular complications. SMR was 0.80 (95% CI 0.47-1.13). One, 2, 5, and 10 year survival rates were 95, 91, 81, and 62%, respectively. Hazard function was 1.8% at Day 30 after diagnosis and remained low until the end of the first year of treatment. Thereafter, mortality increased slightly. As this function was constant, we applied an exponential model. The estimated risk of death with this model was 5.3% per year.
Conclusion: Longterm mortality of GCA in our area is low. However, it may be possible to further lower the mortality rate through early diagnosis and careful followup.