Objectives: To evaluate the clinical utility of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in screening for iron overload in non-transfusion dependent Haemoglobin (Hb) H disease.
Patients and methods: Thirty-six non-transfusion dependent HbH patients were evaluated with axial spin echo T1 and gradient echo T2 MRI of the abdomen and heart. The ratios of signal intensities (SIR) of the liver, spleen, pancreas and heart to paraspinous muscles were calculated. SIR <1 was taken as indicative of iron overload. Qualitative grading (0-4 scale) of iron overload was also performed. The relationship between T1 and T2 SIR and serum ferritin, and that between qualitative grading and serum ferritin were examined using standard statistical methods. Comparisons were also made between qualitative grading and quantitative T1 and T2 SIR data in diagnosing iron overload. Six patients underwent liver biopsies.
Results: T2 SIR was more sensitive in detecting iron overload than T1 SIR. Thirty-three livers, 13 spleens, six pancreas and one heart were diagnosed as having iron overload with T2 SIR, including three patients with normal serum ferritin. A positive diagnosis by T2 SIR was more closely related to that of qualitative grading than T1 SIR. Serum ferritin was negatively correlated with hepatic SIR (T1 and T2), and with T2 SIR of the spleen and pancreas, even after adjustment for age. Liver haemosiderosis was confirmed in all six patients who underwent liver biopsies. Liver iron concentration of only one and a half times the normal was found in one patient with positive MR findings.
Conclusion: MR is a non-invasive, effective method for early detection of iron overload particularly in the liver and spleen. Qualitative grading and quantitative T2 SIR data are equivalent in diagnosing iron overload. Routine screening of non-transfusion dependent HbH patients will identify high risk patients in whom early therapeutic intervention may prevent further complications and morbidity.