The diagnosis of polyarteritis nodosa. I. A literature-based decision analysis approach

Arthritis Rheum. 1988 Sep;31(9):1117-27. doi: 10.1002/art.1780310906.


We investigated diagnostic testing in polyarteritis nodosa (PAN) by calculating, from published data, the sensitivity and specificity of visceral angiography and muscle, nerve, testicle, kidney, and liver biopsy. Test sequence strategies were constructed by Bayesian inference using a computer program written for this purpose. Test sequences were compared with an aggressive strategy consisting of repeated tests until there was a positive finding or until the available tests were exhausted, and a conservative strategy consisting of 1 biopsy procedure plus angiography. The Bayesian analysis agreed most closely with the conservative approach for most prior probabilities (degree of suspicion) that a patient had PAN. The aggressive strategy had an overall sensitivity of 90% and specificity of 91%, whereas the conservative strategy was 85% sensitive and 96% specific. Furthermore, the aggressive strategy was more costly ($2,986 versus $1,961) and had a higher rate of morbidity (3.8 versus 2.7 days of hospitalization per patient evaluated) than did the conservative strategy. The mortality rates of both strategies were equivalent (approximately 0.05 deaths per hundred patients evaluated). The per-case cost of diagnosis increased as prevalence decreased, and at 10% prevalence, the aggressive strategy cost more than $17,000 per case diagnosed. Sensitivity analysis revealed that the strategies were moderately affected by the test characteristics, within reasonable assumptions, but that the differences in conservative and aggressive approaches remained. Thus, our analysis based on available data and the assumption of test independence suggests that the preferred diagnostic evaluation of patients with symptoms suggestive of PAN consists, in most cases, of a single biopsy procedure, with angiographic evaluation if necessary.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Costs and Cost Analysis
  • Decision Making, Computer-Assisted*
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted / economics
  • Humans
  • Models, Theoretical*
  • Polyarteritis Nodosa / diagnosis*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity