Objective: To evaluate the orbital portion of the optic nerve and the subarachnoid space using fast spin-echo magnetic resonance imaging in normal subjects and in patients with papilledema or optic atrophy.
Design: Measurements of the optic nerve complex on coronal images were made using high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging with fast spin-echo sequences.
Patients: Twenty-one patients, including 5 patients with papilledema due to congenital hydrocephalus, intracranial tumors, or meningitis, as well as 16 patients with optic atrophy, were studied. Sixteen healthy volunteers served as controls.
Main outcome measures: The longitudinal diameter of the optic nerve, the longitudinal outer diameter of the subarachnoid space, the diameter ratio, and the area of the subarachnoid space were determined.
Results: In normal subjects, the ring-shaped area of high signal intensity that represented the subarachnoid space was widest behind the globe, then narrowed toward the orbital apex. In patients with papilledema, the area of the subarachnoid space was markedly dilated, the optic nerve was compressed, and the nerve sheath was widened, resulting in a small diameter ratio compared with that of controls. Patients with pallor of the temporal aspect of the optic disc appeared to exhibit dilation of the subarachnoid space; the size of the optic nerve was decreased more than that of the nerve sheath, resulting in a small diameter ratio compared with controls. Patients with complete pallor of the disc, however, exhibited hyperintense optic nerve complexes without a ring-shaped appearance toward the orbital apex.
Conclusion: Fast spin-echo magnetic resonance imaging appears useful for objectively evaluating the optic nerve and surrounding subarachnoid space in patients with papilledema and optic atrophy.