Role of thrombocytosis in diagnosis of giant cell arteritis and differentiation of arteritic from non-arteritic anterior ischemic optic neuropathy

F Costello, M B Zimmerman, P A Podhajsky, S S Hayreh
European Journal of Ophthalmology 2004, 14 (3): 245-57

PURPOSE: To investigate the role of thrombocytosis in the diagnosis of giant cell arteritis (GCA), and differentiation of arteritic (A-AION) from non-arteritic (NA-AION) anterior ischemic optic neuropathy; and comparison of the sensitivity and specificity of platelet count to that of erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP) and some other hematologic variables in the diagnosis of GCA.

METHODS: This retrospective study is based on 121 temporal artery biopsy confirmed GCA patients and 287 patients with NA-AION seen in our clinic. For inclusion in this study, all GCA patients, at their initial visit, prior to the initiation of corticosteroid therapy, must have had ESR (Westergren), platelet count and complete blood count, and temporal artery biopsy. From 1985 onwards CRP estimation was done. For inclusion in this study, all NA-AION patients at the initial visit must have undergone evaluation similar to that described above for GCA, except for temporal artery biopsy. Wilcoxon rank-sum test and the two-sample t-test were used to compare hematologic variables between GCA patients with and without visual loss, between those with and without systemic symptoms, and also between GCA and NA-AION patients. Pearson correlation coefficient was computed to measure the association of platelet counts and the other hematologic variables with ESR. Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) curves were constructed for ESR, CRP, platelet count, combinations of ESR and platelet count, and CRP and platelet count, hemoglobin, hematocrit, and white blood cell (WBC) count and the area under the curve (AUC) were compared.

RESULTS: Comparison of ESR, CRP, and hematologic variables of GCA patients and of A-AION with the NA-AION group, showed significantly (p <0.0001) higher median levels of ESR, CRP, platelet count, and WBC count and lower levels of hemoglobin and hematocrit in the GCA patients and A-AION than in NA-AION. Comparing AUC of the ROC curve between ESR and platelet count, ESR was a better predictor of GCA compared to platelet count (AUC of 0.946 vs. 0.834). There was a slight improvement in prediction of GCA using the combination of ESR and platelet count (AUC=0.953). The other hematologic variables had an AUC that was smaller than platelet count (0.854 for hemoglobin; 0.841 for hematocrit), with WBC being the least predictive of GCA (AUC=0.666). The AUC of the ROC curve for CRP was 0.978. There was no improvement in prediction of GCA using platelet count in combination with CRP (AUC=0.976).

CONCLUSIONS: Patients with GCA had significantly (p <0.0001) higher values of platelet count, ESR, CRP and WBC but lower values for hemoglobin and hematocrit compared to the NA-AION group. Predictive ability of an elevated platelet count did not surpass elevated ESR or CRP as a diagnostic marker for GCA. Thrombocytosis may complement ESR. Hemoglobin, hematocrit and WBC were much less predictive of GCA. Elevated CRP had a greater predictive ability for GCA compared to ESR or the other hematologic parameters; thrombocytosis in combination with CRP did not yield an improvement in prediction of GCA.

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