Does spinal MRI add incremental diagnostic value to MRI of the sacroiliac joints alone in patients with non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis?

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Abstract

Objective

To assess the incremental diagnostic value of spine MRI evaluated separately from and combined with sacroiliac joint (SIJ) MRI in non-radiographic axial spondyloarthritis (nr-axSpA) compared with SIJ MRI alone.

Methods

The study sample comprised two independent cohorts A/B of 130 consecutive patients aged ≤50 years with back pain, newly referred to two university clinics, and 20 healthy controls. Patients were classified according to clinical examination and pelvic radiographs as having nr-axSpA (n=50), ankylosing spondylitis (n=33), or non-specific back pain (n=47). Four readers assessed SIJ and spine MRI separately 6 months apart, and 1–12 months later both scans simultaneously using standardised modules. Readers recorded presence/absence of SpA and their level of confidence in this conclusion on a 0–10 scale (0=definitely not; 10=definite). We analysed differences between SIJ MRI versus spine MRI alone, and SIJ MRI alone versus combined MRI, descriptively by the number/percentage of subjects according to the mean of four readers.

Results

In cohorts A/B, 15.8%/24.2% of patients with nr-axSpA having a negative SIJ MRI were reclassified as being positive for SpA by global evaluation of combined scans. However, 26.8%/11.4% of non-specific back pain controls and 17.5% of healthy volunteers with a negative SIJ MRI were falsely reclassified as having SpA by combined MRI. Low confidence in a diagnosis of SpA by SIJ MRI increased to high confidence by combined MRI in 6.6%/7.3% of patients with nr-axSpA.

Conclusions

Combined spine and SIJ MRI added little incremental value compared with SIJ MRI alone for diagnosing patients with nr-axSpA and enhancing confidence in this diagnosis.

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