This study is in two parts. In the first synovial fluid from 1892 patients with 14 different arthropathies was examined microscopically. Crystals of different types were identified and the disease distribution of these and various cell types, including several not previously reported in synovial fluid, have been described. These features have been used to derive a series of microscopic diagnostic criteria for each arthropathy. The criteria have been used in the second part of the study to examine synovial fluids from 200 patients without knowledge of any clinical diagnosis. Cytological and clinical diagnoses were compared at the end of the study. Matching diagnoses were made in 71 (35.5%) and a short list of differential diagnoses (based on cytological criteria), which included the clinical diagnosis, was made in a further 43 (21.5%). Of the rest, 63 (31.5%) were correctly described as inflammatory or non-inflammatory and in five (2.5%) no diagnosis could be made. Only in seven cases (3.5%) was an inaccurate (false positive) cytological diagnosis made. The results indicate that synovial fluid microscopy is a potentially more important diagnostic screening test in rheumatological and orthopaedic practice than it would at first appear from published reports.
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