Ultrasound evaluation of joints in systemic lupus erythematosus: a systematic review

Eur Radiol. 2015 Sep;25(9):2688-92. doi: 10.1007/s00330-015-3670-y. Epub 2015 Feb 27.


Objectives: The aim of this systematic review is to describe the scientific evidence regarding sonographic findings of joints in SLE patients.

Methods: Seven databases were searched (PubMed, ScienceDirect, Scopus, Cochrane, EMBASE, LILACS, and SciELO) for articles from 1950 to January 2015. The keywords used for selecting articles include "lupus", "ultrasound imaging", "ultrasonography", "synovitis", "tenosynovitis", and "arthritis".

Results: A total of 12 articles were included in the final analysis. In total, 610 SLE patients and 1,091 joints were studied. Most patients underwent bilateral joint examination by US. A total of 888 hands and wrists, 154 ankles/feet, and 56 knees were examined. Effusion was identified in 602 joints, synovitis in 213, tenosynovitis in 210, synovial hypertrophy in 150, and bone erosions in 73 cases. The majority of the studies demonstrated higher frequency of musculoskeletal abnormalities on US than those observed on physical examination.

Conclusion: US seems to be a valuable tool to identify subclinical joint manifestations in SLE. Prospective studies are necessary to determine if those patients with subclinical joint abnormalities have a higher risk for the development of chronic deformities as those seen in Jaccoud's Arthropathy.

Key points: • Musculoskeletal involvement occurs in more than 90% of SLE cases. • Arthralgia or tender/swollen joints found on physical examination showed more US findings. • Patients without joint symptoms or physical examinations changes showed musculoskeletal sonographic findings. • US became a useful tool for rheumatologists. • A substantial number of asymptomatic patients show abnormalities at musculoskeletal US.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Ankle Joint / ultrastructure*
  • Female
  • Hand Joints / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Hypertrophy / complications
  • Hypertrophy / diagnostic imaging
  • Joint Diseases / complications
  • Joint Diseases / diagnostic imaging*
  • Knee Joint / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / complications
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Prospective Studies
  • Synovitis / complications
  • Synovitis / diagnostic imaging
  • Tenosynovitis / complications
  • Tenosynovitis / diagnostic imaging
  • Ultrasonography
  • Wrist Joint / diagnostic imaging