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[Radiologic diagnosis of spondylodiscitis: role of magnetic resonance].

La Radiologia Medica 2000 September
PURPOSE: To report the Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) features of acute and chronic spontaneous spondylodiscitis as well as any typical patterns which can be useful for the differential diagnosis between pyogenic and tuberculous forms.

MATERIAL AND METHODS: Eleven patients affected with spontaneous spondylodiscitis were selected for the study; they were 7 men and 4 women ranging in age 33-87 years (mean: 64). We excluded the patients with iatrogenic spondylodiscitis. MR images were acquired with a superconductive magnet at 1.5, with the following sequences: sagittal PD and T2-weighted TSE, sagittal T1-weighted SE, axial PD and T2-weighted TSE for the lumbar spine, axial T2-weighted GRE for the cervical and dorsal spine and axial and sagittal T1-weighted SE after contrast agent (gadolinium DTPA) injection. MR images were reviewed by three experienced radiologists and morphological and signal intensity changes of vertebral body and disk were recorded on a standard form. In 9 patients it was possible to compare MR to CT findings.

RESULTS: At the time of our observation all patients reported pain at the spine level, associated with fever and weight loss in 50% of cases and with increased values of the inflammatory markers. Three patients had infectious diseases in other organs and 2 were diabetics. Biopsy was performed in two cases only and demonstrated Staphylococcus aureus in one and Mycobacterium tuberculosis in the other patient. MRI allowed the correct diagnosis to be made in all cases, demonstrating the pathological involvement of the paravertebral structures and into the spinal canal earlier and more accurately than CT. A common finding in pyogenic and tuberculous spondylodiscitis was the low signal of the subcortical bone marrow on T1-weighted sagittal images, which enhanced after Gd-DTPA administration and became intermediate or high on T2-weighted images. Moreover, the steady high signal intensity of the disk on T2-weighted images and its contrast enhancement on T1-weighted images is typical for an acute inflammatory process.

CONCLUSIONS: Based on our personal experience and literature data, we believe MRI to be the most sensitive technique for the diagnosis of spondylodiscitis in the acute phase, whereas it is comparable to CT in the chronic stage of the disease. At present MRI does not allow to differentiate pyogenic from tuberculous forms.

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