Objective: To evaluate alterations of the soft tissues, tendons, and bones as detected by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)-associated arthritis of the finger joints.
Methods: Both hands of 14 patients with SLE of various activities and durations and with arthritis and/or deformities of the finger joints were examined by MRI and conventional radiography. Coronal T1-weighted spin-echo (with and without gadolinium contrast), axial T2-weighted turbo spin-echo, coronal fat-suppressed short tau inversion recovery, and 3-dimensional double-echo steady-state sequences were acquired and analyzed, and the findings were compared with those from conventional radiographs.
Results: MRI detected periarticular capsular swelling in all 14 patients, joint effusion in 7, edematous tenosynovitis in 6, proliferative tenosynovitis (flexor and/or extensor tendons) in 4, and intraarticular signs of synovial membrane hypertrophy in 10 patients, 9 of whom showed enhancement after administration of contrast medium. Bony erosions were identified in 8 patients by MRI; conventional radiography missed these erosions in 2 of the 8 patients. Four of the 14 patients were designated as Jaccoud's arthropathy index-positive, and all 4 showed severe edematous tenosynovitis and capsular swelling, but no signs of bony erosions despite longstanding disease (mean 21.5 years). Four of the 10 patients with mild deformity exhibited prominent soft tissue pathology, with minimal destruction of bone; the other 6 patients had bony alterations that resembled rheumatoid arthritis.
Conclusion: In SLE patients with arthritis of the finger joints, MRI detects characteristic signs of soft tissue pathology (e.g., capsular swelling, edematous and proliferative tenosynovitis, synovial hypertrophy) and bony alterations (e.g., erosions, some of which are missed by conventional radiography). MRI thus helps to distinguish different types of lupus arthritis/Jaccoud's arthropathy, which allows more differentiated treatment strategies and monitoring.