Background: Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the most sensitive imaging modality for the detection of sacroiliitis. Diagnosing sacroiliitis on MRI is not always straightforward and can be challenging in some cases.
Objectives: To evaluate the prevalence of alternative diagnoses suggested by MRI and characterize the MR appearance of the most common ones.
Methods: Consecutive MRI examinations of the sacroiliac joints (SIJ) performed between 2005 and 2012 were retrospectively evaluated for the presence of structural and active sacroiliitis findings according to the Assessment of SpondyloArthritis International Society guidelines. Alternative diagnoses, including degenerative changes, diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis (DISH), Osteitis condensans ilii (OCI), septic sacroiliitis/discitis, stress reaction as well as anatomic variants, were registered
Results: We evaluated 281 MRI examinations, 116 males, 165 females, average age 44 ± 15 years. Sacroiliitis was found in 71 examinations (25%) and alternative diagnoses were suggested in 87 (31%) (OCI 8.9%, anatomic variants 5.3%, septic sacroiliitis 5.3%, degenerative findings 4.3%, diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis [DISH] 1.5%, stress reaction 0.7%, tumor 0.3%). A normal examination was found in the remaining 123 examinations. Patients with alternative diagnoses were older than those with sacroiliitis (62 vs. 47 years of age, respectively, P > 0.05). Alternative pathologies in the SIJ were significantly more common in females (66) than males (21), P < 0.05.
Conclusions: A substantial proportion of patients with suspected sacroiliitis had normal SIJ while the rest were more commonly diagnosed with other pathologies. A referral by an experienced rheumatologist may improve the sensitivity and specificity of this important examination.