Objectives: Our centre offers a fast-track assessment service for patients with suspected GCA and this service continued to operate during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic. During and immediately following the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK we observed an increase in the number of patients diagnosed with GCA as well as an increased number of patients with visual complications. Our aim was to investigate this further.
Methods: The electronic medical records of all patients referred for GCA fast-track assessment from January 2019 were reviewed. A complete list of patients undergoing temporal artery ultrasound and temporal artery biopsy for investigation of GCA dating back to 2015 was also available.
Results: In the 12 week period between April and June 2020, 24 patients were diagnosed with GCA. Six (25%) had associated visual impairment. In contrast, during 2019, 28 new diagnoses of GCA were made in total and just 10% of patients suffered visual involvement. The number of patients diagnosed with GCA in April-June 2020 was nearly 5-fold that of the same time period the previous year. GCA diagnoses between April and June 2020 were supported by imaging (temporal artery ultrasound or CT-PET) in 72% of cases. We noted a higher proportion of male patients and a lower median age but no clear difference in the duration of symptoms prior to assessment.
Conclusions: The reasons behind our observations remain unclear. However, our findings support the viral aetiopathogenesis hypothesis for GCA and demonstrate the importance of maintaining access to urgent rheumatology services during periods of healthcare disruption.