Relation between Heberden's nodes and distal interphalangeal joint osteophytes and their role as markers of generalised disease

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Heberden's nodes are often used as a marker for osteoarthritis (OA). This study examined how often Heberden's nodes and radiological distal interphalangeal (DIP) osteophytes coexist in the same digit and the sensitivity, specificity, and positive predicative value of each for OA at different sites or generalised disease.


This was a population-based study of 660 middle aged women taking part in a twin study of OA. Distal interphalangeal osteophytes were defined radiologically and graded on a four point scale (0-3) using a published atlas of individual features. Heberden's nodes were defined by standardised clinical examination. OA in other joints (knees, proximal interphalangeal (PIP) joints and carpometacarpal (CMC) joints) was defined radiologically using a published atlas.


Poor agreement was observed between a Heberden's node (HN) and a radiological distal interphalangeal osteophyte in the same finger of the same hand (kappa statistic (95% CI) = 0.36 (0.33, 0.39)). Although HN and radiological DIP osteophytes had similar sensitivity, the specificity and positive predicative value of DIP osteophytes was considerably higher for detecting knee, CMC, PIP OA, and OA in more than two groups of joints (knee, CMC, and DIP joints).


HN are not synonymous with DIP osteophytes. Radiological DIP osteophytes are a better marker of knee and multiple joint OA than HN. HN may still be an imperfect surrogate for hand OA when radiology is impractical, but are not an accurate marker of generalised disease.

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