Objective: To analyze peripheral nerves with ultrasonography (US) and magnetic resonance imaging (MR) in leprosy and assess the role of imaging in leprosy patients.
Design and patients: Fifty-eight nerves with abnormal clinical features or electromyograms were examined in 23 leprosy patients by means of gray-scale US, Doppler US and MR imaging. Image analysis included: measurement of nerve cross-sectional area; assessment of nerve structure and MR signal intensities; identification of nerve compression within osteofibrous tunnels; detection of endoneural color flow signals and Gd-DTPA enhancement. Correlations were made with clinical findings and a control group of 20 subjects. Fourteen nerves in active reversal reaction were followed up after therapy.
Results: Leprosy nerves were classified into three groups based on imaging appearance: group I consisted of 17 normal-appearing nerves; group II, of 30 enlarged nerves with fascicular abnormalities; group III, of 11 nerves with absent fascicular structure. Group II nerves were from patients subjected to reversal reactions; 75% of patients with group III nerves had a history of erythema nodosum leprosum. Nerve compression in osteofibrous tunnels was identified in 33% of group II and 18% of group III nerves. Doppler US and MR imaging were 74% and 92% sensitive in identifying active reactions, based on detection of endoneural color flow signals, long T2 and Gd enhancement. In 64% of cases, follow-up studies showed decreased color flow and Gd uptake after steroids and decompressive surgery.
Conclusions: US and MR imaging are able to detect nerves abnormalities in leprosy. Active reversal reactions are indicated by endoneural color flow signals as well as by an increased T2 signal and Gd enhancement. These signs would suggest rapid progression of nerve damage and a poor prognosis unless antireactional treatment is started.