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DEFINITION OF GIANT CELL ARTERITIS AND POLYMYALGIA RHEUMATICA

Giant cell arteritis, historically referred to as temporal arteritis, is an inflammation of medium- and large-sized arteries. It characteristically involves one or more branches of the carotid artery, particularly the temporal artery. However, it is a systemic disease that can involve arteries in multiple locations, particularly the aorta and its main branches.

Giant cell arteritis is closely associated with polymyalgia rheumatica, which is characterized by stiffness, aching, and pain in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, lower back, hips, and thighs. Most commonly, polymyalgia rheumatica occurs in isolation, but it may be seen in 40–50% of patients with giant cell arteritis. In addition, ~10–20% of patients who initially present with features of isolated polymyalgia rheumatica later go on to develop giant cell arteritis. This strong clinical association together with data from pathophysiologic studies has increasingly supported that giant cell arteritis and polymyalgia rheumatica represent differing clinical spectrums of a single disease process.

INCIDENCE AND PREVALENCE OF GIANT CELL ARTERITIS AND POLYMYALGIA RHEUMATICA

Giant cell arteritis occurs almost exclusively in individuals aged >50 years. It is more common in women than in men and is rare in blacks. The incidence of giant cell arteritis varies widely in different studies and in different geographic regions. A high incidence has been found in Scandinavia and in regions of the United States with large Scandinavian populations, compared to a lower incidence in southern Europe. The annual incidence rates in individuals aged ≥50 years range from 6.9 to 32.8 per 100,000 population. Familial aggregation has been reported, as has an association with HLA-DR4. In addition, genetic linkage studies have demonstrated an association of giant cell arteritis with alleles at the HLA-DRB1 locus, particularly HLA-DRB1*04 variants. In Olmsted County, Minnesota, the annual incidence of polymyalgia rheumatica in individuals aged ≥50 years is 58.7 per 100,000 population.

PATHOLOGY AND PATHOGENESIS OF GIANT CELL ARTERITIS AND POLYMYALGIA RHEUMATICA

Although the temporal artery is most frequently involved in giant cell arteritis, patients often have a systemic vasculitis of multiple medium- and large-sized arteries, which may go undetected. Histopathologically, the disease is a panarteritis with inflammatory mononuclear cell infiltrates within the vessel wall with frequent giant cell formation. There is proliferation of the intima and fragmentation of the internal elastic lamina. Pathophysiologic findings in organs result from the ischemia related to the involved vessels.

Experimental data support that giant cell arteritis is an antigen-driven disease in which activated T lymphocytes, macrophages, and dendritic cells play a critical role in the disease pathogenesis. Sequence analysis of the T cell receptor of tissue-infiltrating T cells in lesions of giant cell arteritis indicates restricted clonal expansion, suggesting the presence of an antigen residing in the arterial wall. Giant cell arteritis is believed to be initiated in the adventitia where CD4+ T cells ...

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