Stroke as an atypical initial presentation of giant cell arteritis.
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BACKGROUND: Giant cell arteritis (GCA) is an immune mediated inflammatory disease of medium and large arteries which afflicts older people. The classical presentation features include: headache, visual disturbances, and jaw claudication. Patients diagnosed with GCA have also been observed to be at higher risk for the subsequent development of strokes.
CASE PRESENTATION: We describe a case of an 84-year old right-handed man who presented to hospital with dysarthria, dysphagia, right-sided facial drop, a history of generalized weakness and multiple falls. He was admitted to geriatric medicine with the working diagnosis of a posterior circulation stroke syndrome. He was also started on antibiotic treatment for a possible community-acquired pneumonia because of the presence of a low-grade fever and a chest radiograph showing ill-defined left lower lobe airspace disease. Initial lab results were remarkable for an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) of 112 mm/h and a C-reactive protein (CRP) level of 110 mg/L consistent with an active inflammatory state. Neurovascular imaging showed mild atherosclerotic changes of the aortic arch and proximal great vessels without significant stenosis. The patient was started on daily high-dose prednisone because of the possibility of a cerebral vasculitis. Bilateral biopsy of temporal arteries showed giant cell arteritis. The patient's neurologic status and inflammatory markers significantly improved (ESR 52 mm/h, CRP 7.0 mg/L) and he was eventually discharged to a seniors home with services.
CONCLUSION: The initial presentation of giant cell arteritis as a stroke syndrome, especially in the posterior circulation territory, is exceedingly rare. Other atypical presenting symptoms may include chronic cough and fever of unknown origin. The elevated ESR and CRP levels were clues to the diagnosis and clinical decision-making should be driven by a high index of suspicion since no single test (ESR, CRP, temporal artery biopsy) has perfect sensitivity. Elevated CRP may have a role in increasing stroke risk. This case report illustrates that in older people clinicians must consider atypical presentations of disease more often since timely diagnosis and initiation of treatment can result in optimal outcomes.