The role of unilateral temporal artery biopsy

Jennifer K Hall, Nicholas J Volpe, Steven L Galetta, Grant T Liu, Nasreen A Syed, Laura J Balcer
Ophthalmology 2003, 110 (3): 543-8; discussion 548

PURPOSE: To examine the role of unilateral temporal artery biopsy (TAB) in suspected giant cell arteritis (GCA).

DESIGN: Retrospective interventional case series.

PARTICIPANTS: We identified 181 subjects from pathology and diagnostic code databases at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center who underwent TAB between January 1990 and January 2001.

METHODS: The medical records for all subjects who underwent TAB were reviewed. Follow-up information was obtained by telephone or record review for those patients who had negative unilateral TAB.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Follow-up information for patients with unilateral negative TAB was reviewed for potential adverse outcomes caused by missed or delayed diagnoses of GCA. Presenting signs and symptoms and laboratory values were recorded for all subjects. Comparisons of clinical profiles between subsets of subjects were performed using Fisher's exact test, significance level alpha = 0.01.

RESULTS: Follow-up information was available for 88 (86%) of 102 subjects who had unilateral negative biopsy samples. One (1%) subjects of 88 had a subsequent positive contralateral TAB; no adverse outcomes occurred for this subject or for any other subjects with unilateral negative TAB. Compared with subjects who had unilateral positive or who underwent bilateral TAB (n = 74), those who had unilateral negative TAB (n = 88) had a significantly lower prevalence of jaw claudication (P = 0.007). Compared with subjects diagnosed with GCA (n = 39), those with unilateral negative TAB (n = 88) had significantly lower frequencies of jaw claudication (P = 0.001), "chalky white" optic disc edema (P = 0.002), and fever (P < 0.0001). Compared with subjects with positive TAB (n = 33), subjects with negative TAB (n = 148) had significantly lower prevalence of jaw claudication (P < 0.0001), "chalky white" disc edema (P = 0.0002), pale disc edema (P = 0.006), or any systemic symptom other than headache (P = 0.0002). ("Chalky white" denotes notably extreme disc pallor). The most common indications for biopsy in subjects with unilateral negative TAB were elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) (74%), headache (69%), visual complaints (58%), and ophthalmic signs (52%). Although ESR was a significant predictor of positive TAB overall (unilateral and bilateral TAB) in logistic regression models accounting simultaneously for subject age (P = 0.04), ESR did not significantly predict unilateral negative status in our patients (P = 0.13).

CONCLUSIONS: In this cohort of patients, unilateral TAB was associated with an extremely low frequency (1%) of subsequent positive contralateral TAB and was not associated with adverse visual or neurologic outcomes for any subject. We conclude that in the hands of experienced physicians, a unilateral TAB is sufficient to exclude a diagnosis of GCA in populations for which clinical suspicion is low. Jaw claudication, pale optic disc edema, particularly "chalky white" disc edema, fever, or any systemic symptom other than headache should raise suspicion for a diagnosis of GCA.

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