Whole-body MRI assessment of disease activity and structural damage in rheumatoid arthritis: first step towards an MRI joint count

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2014 May;53(5):845-53. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/ket425. Epub 2014 Jan 3.


Objective: The aim of this study was to investigate the ability of whole-body MRI (WBMRI) to visualize inflammation [synovitis, bone marrow oedema (BME) and enthesitis] and structural damage in patients with RA.

Methods: The 3T WBMR images were acquired in a head-to-toe scan in 20 patients with RA and at least one swollen or tender joint. Short Tau Inversion Recovery and pre- and post-contrast T1-weighted images were evaluated for readability and the presence/absence of inflammation (synovitis, BME and enthesitis) and structural damage (erosions and fat infiltrations) in 76 peripheral joints, 30 entheseal sites and in the spine.

Results: The readability was >70% for all individual joints, except for the most peripheral joints of the hands and feet. Synovitis was most frequent in the wrist, first tarsometatarsal, first CMC joints and glenohumeral joints (67-61%); BME in the wrist, CMC, acromioclavicular and glenohumeral joints (45-35%) and erosions in the wrist, MTP and CMC joints (19-16%). Enthesitis at ≥ 1 site was registered in 16 patients. BME was frequently seen in the cervical (20%) but not the thoracic and lumbar spine, while fat infiltrations and erosions were rare. The intrareader agreement was high (85-100%) for all pathologies. The agreement between WBMRI and clinical findings was low.

Conclusion: Peripheral and axial inflammation and structural damage at joints and entheses was frequently identified by WBMRI, and more frequently than by clinical examination. WBMRI is a promising tool for evaluation of the total inflammatory load of inflammation (an MRI joint count) and structural damage in RA patients.

Keywords: inflammation; magnetic resonance imaging; rheumatoid arthritis; structural damage; whole-body imaging.

Publication types

  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / diagnosis*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / epidemiology
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / pathology*
  • Bone Marrow Diseases / diagnosis
  • Bone Marrow Diseases / epidemiology
  • Bone Marrow Diseases / pathology
  • Comorbidity
  • Edema / diagnosis
  • Edema / epidemiology
  • Edema / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Joints / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Rheumatic Diseases / diagnosis
  • Rheumatic Diseases / epidemiology
  • Rheumatic Diseases / pathology
  • Severity of Illness Index*
  • Synovitis / diagnosis
  • Synovitis / epidemiology
  • Synovitis / pathology