Objective: The aim of this prospective 24-month follow-up study was to compare clinical features with radiological and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings in evaluating synovial proliferation in the hand joints of 31 patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A single joint was used for the follow-up of each patient.
Methods: Thirty-one small hand joints were examined by conventional radiography and MRI before and after 24 months of treatment. MRI assessment of disease progression (volume and/or signal intensity of the synovial proliferation on T1 weighted precontrast, T1 weighted postcontrast and T2 weighted images) was compared with a clinical assessment of the chosen joints, and with a plain x-ray film evaluation (Larsen's score).
Results: Of 26 joints which clinically improved (14 markedly and 14 slightly) during the study, on MRI 16 showed improvement, 8 showed no change, and 2 showed deterioration. Four clinically unchanged joints appeared improved on MRI. One joint deteriorated clinically and on MRI. Overall, there was a 58% congruence between clinical and MRI findings. On x-ray 23 joints showed no change; nine of these were also unchanged on MRI, while 13 showed improvement and one deterioration. Only in 2 out of 8 joints showing deterioration on x-ray were the MRI findings in accordance. In the remaining six joints MRI showed improvement. The congruence between x-ray and MRI was therefore 36%.
Conclusion: The long-term follow-up of rheumatoid synovial proliferation of the small joints in the hand using contrast enhanced MRI is feasible and may provide additional information regarding disease activity. Important advantages over conventional radiography methods are its ability to demonstrate qualitative differences of synovial proliferation within bone erosions, and demonstrate not only deterioration, but also the improvement of inflammatory disease.