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Should I send my patient with previous giant cell arteritis for imaging of the thoracic aorta? A systematic literature review and meta-analysis
  1. Sarah Louise Mackie1,
  2. Elizabeth M A Hensor1,
  3. Ann W Morgan1,
  4. Colin T Pease2
  1. 1NIHR-Leeds Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit, Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK
  2. 2Department of Rheumatology, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds, West Yorkshire, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Sarah Louise Mackie, NIHR-Leeds Musculoskeletal Biomedical Research Unit, Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, Wellcome Trust Brenner Building, St James's University Hospital, Leeds LS9 7TF, UK; s.l.mackie{at}


Objectives To review the literature in order to estimate how many previously unknown thoracic aortic aneurysms (TAAs) and thoracic aortic dilatations (TADs) might be detected by systematic, cross-sectional aortic imaging of patients with giant cell arteritis (GCA).

Methods A systematic literature review was performed using Ovid Medline, Embase and the Cochrane Library. Studies potentially relevant to TAA/TAD were evaluated by two authors independently for relevance, bias and heterogeneity. Meta-analysis was performed using a random-effects model to estimate pooled prevalence.

Results Two analyses of routinely collected administrative data suggested a threefold risk of TAA/dissection in GCA compared with controls. In GCA cohorts without systematic imaging, 2–8% had TAA. In the two best-reported studies, aneurysm dissection/rupture occurred in 1% and 6% of GCA cases. Aortic imaging studies had a variety of TAA/TAD definitions, imaging methods and time points. There were limited data on age-matched controls. Three studies suggested that male sex may be a risk factor for TAA/TAD in GCA. On average, five to ten patients with GCA would need aortic imaging to detect one previously unknown TAA/TAD.

Conclusions The data support an association between GCA and TAA/TAD compared with age-matched controls, but the true relative risk, and the time course of that risk, remains unclear. It is also unclear whether chest radiography is a sufficiently sensitive screening tool. Clinicians should retain a high index of suspicion for aortic pathology in patients with GCA. Before ordering imaging, clinicians should consider whether, and how, detecting aortic pathology would affect a patient's management.

  • Giant Cell Arteritis
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Cardiovascular Disease

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