Scalp necrosis in giant cell arteritis: Case report and review of the relevance of this cutaneous sign of large-vessel vasculitis

Department of Dermatology, University of Muenster, Muenster, Germany.
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology (Impact Factor: 4.45). 08/2009; 61(4):701-6. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaad.2008.11.913
Source: PubMed


Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is a systemic vasculitis associated with severe complications such as loss of vision and, rarely, scalp necrosis. We present a patient with GCA who had bilateral scalp necrosis and an erythrocyte sedimentation rate of only 21 mm after the first hour. Therapy with systemic steroids, which were slowly tapered over 1 year, led to secondary wound healing without recurrence. As there are no systematic reviews on the occurrence of scalp necrosis in patients with GCA, we performed a literature research and meta-analysis and discovered 78 cases published between 1946 and 2007. Analysis of the data revealed that GCA with scalp necrosis is associated with a higher incidence of vision loss (32%) and other visual defects (37.3%) than GCA without scalp necrosis (visual disturbances in up to 20%). GCA with scalp necrosis is also associated with an increased mortality (standard mortality ratio [SMR], 4.2) in contrast to GCA without scalp necrosis, which has no significantly higher mortality than age-matched controls (SMR 0.8-1.034). In patients with scalp necrosis, the diagnosis of GCA was made about 1 month later than in patients without scalp necrosis, and scalp necrosis was never reported to occur after onset of therapy with glucocorticoids. Thus, for reasons beyond potential loss of vision, physicians should be alert for symptoms of GCA as only timely diagnosis and immediate therapy may prevent serious complications and increased mortality.

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