Brief, high-dose steroid treatment offers extended relief to giant cell arteritis patients

ATLANTA -- A new study offers both hope and a practical treatment option for patients with giant cell arteritis (GCA). Researchers from Emory University and the Mayo Clinic have found that by treating newly diagnosed GCA patients with just three days of a high-dose intravenous steroid, patients relapsed less in the following year and were able to significantly taper off usage of an oral steroid. The study is published in the October issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Giant cell arteritis is characterized by inflammation of arteries, primarily in the head, and affects 20 out of every 100,000 people. GCA inflammation may lead to swelling and headaches, or, as it progresses, vision loss, strokes and aortic aneurysms. While past research has shown a genetic link to the disease, which primarily affects Caucasian women over the age of 50, there is no known cause or cure.

For the last 40 years, physicians have been able to treat and reverse some symptoms of GCA by prescribing prednisone, to be taken daily over a year or more. "Patients improve promptly and reliably, within days of when we treat them," says Cornelia M. Weyand, MD, PhD, co-director of the Kathleen B. and Mason I. Lowance Center for Human Immunology at Emory University and an author of the paper. "The problem is that patients have to take prednisone for a long time and in high doses, and they are at risk of developing side effects." Common side effects include hypertension, diabetes and osteoporosis.

While scientists have attempted to develop new drugs that would be more effective and have fewer side effects, their results have been unsuccessful. "We and others tried to look into other types of treatments that could help with this disease," says Jrg Goronzy, MD, PhD, senior author of the paper, and co-director of the Lowance Center.

"Even the modern and effective immunosuppressants do not improve the situation with these patients," says Dr. Weyan

Contact: Holly Korschun
Emory University Health Sciences Center

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