Background Sclerosis in the sacroiliac joints (SIJ) on radiography and computed tomography (CT) is common but widely considered a non-specific finding of sacroiliitis due to an association with degeneration and osteitis condensans ilii, despite little formal study. Availability of low dose radiation CT may lead to more widespread use for diagnostic evaluation.
Objectives We standardized the definition of sclerosis on CT and then aimed to determine whether this lesion could be reliably detected and its diagnostic utility.
Methods 215 CT scans were obtained from patients with a history of low back pain. 107 patients had a clinical diagnosis of spondyloarthritis (SpA) and 108 patients were clinically proven not to have SpA. Groups were age and gender matched (140 males, 75 females, mean age was 45 years). Three musculoskeletal radiologists, blinded to patient demographics and diagnosis, scored the CTs after standardization of lesion definitions and calibration. Erosions, sclerosis, and ankylosis were graded by size and number of articular surfaces/ joints involved. Sclerosis was considered definite if located along the cartilaginous compartment, measured >5mm in all 3 planes, and present >5mm from the joint surface. Discrepant scores were arbitrated and inter-reader reliability calculated by intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC). Diagnostic utility of CT lesions was determined by calculating sensitivity and specificity for the clinical diagnosis and by logistic regression.
Results ICC for sclerosis and erosion for each articular surface ranged from 0.65–0.76 and 0.71–0.78, respectively. ICC for ankylosis was 0.87–0.89. Sclerosis occurred in 87 (81%) cases with SpA and 25 (23%) controls. For a single articular surface the specificity for sacroiliitis ranged between 88–94%, for any two articular surfaces 95–100%, for all 4 articular surfaces 100%. Sensitivity ranged from 14% (4 articular surfaces) to 55% (either ilium). Erosion and ankylosis had a similar specificity range of 91–100% and 92–93%. The odds ratio was 4.9 for presence of definite sclerosis, and 12.6 for bilateral joint involvement. The odds ratio increased to 84.2 for bilateral erosion and 22.8 for bilateral ankylosis.
Conclusions When sclerosis measures >5mm in three planes and is located >5mm from a joint perimeter, it has high specificity for sacroiliitis, regardless of how many articular surfaces are involved, with similar specificity to erosion and ankylosis.
Disclosure of Interest None declared
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