Utility of bedside sonography to distinguish soft tissue abnormalities from joint effusions in the emergency department

Srikar Adhikari, Michael Blaivas
Journal of Ultrasound in Medicine: Official Journal of the American Institute of Ultrasound in Medicine 2010, 29 (4): 519-26

OBJECTIVE: The purpose of this study was to determine the utility of bedside sonography to differentiate soft tissue abnormalities from joint effusions.

METHODS: We conducted a retrospective review of emergency department (ED) patients presenting with joint pain, erythema, and swelling who received bedside sonography. The ED sonographic examinations were performed by emergency physician sonologists who were not involved in clinical assessment and management of these patients. The treating physician's opinions regarding the probability of joint effusion and need for aspiration were documented in the sonography log before the sonographic examination was performed. The bedside sonograms of all patients included in this study were also reviewed for accuracy. Descriptive statistics were used to summarize the data.

RESULTS: A total of 54 patients (mean age +/- SD, 41 +/- 18.9 years) were identified over a 1-year period. The symptomatic joints in our study subjects were as follows: knee, 24 of 54 (44%); elbow, 21 of 54 (38%); ankle, 8 of 54 (15%); and metatarsophalangeal joint, 1 of 54 (2%). Twenty-two of 54 patients (40.7%; 95% confidence interval [CI], 27.6%-53.8%) were found to have joint effusions on sonography. Sonography altered management in 35 of 54 patients (65%; 95% CI, 52%-77.5%). Joint aspiration was planned in 39 of 54 cases (72.2%; 95% CI, 60.2%-84.1%) before sonography. After sonography, only 20 of these patients (37%; 95% CI, 24.1%-49.9%) underwent joint aspiration. There was a statistically significant difference in treatment plans after the addition of bedside sonographic results (P < .01).

CONCLUSIONS: Our study suggests that bedside sonography is useful in differentiating joint effusions from soft tissue abnormalities and directing appropriate therapy.

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