Purpose: MRI is currently the gold standard imaging modality in the diagnosis of lumbar spine discitis/osteomyelitis. However, even with supportive clinical and laboratory data, the accuracy of MRI remains limited by several degenerative and inflammatory mimics, such that it continues to represent a challenge for radiologists. This study reports a new quantitative imaging marker of lumbar paraspinal soft tissue edema which shows significant accuracy for spondylodiscitis. Methods: Thirty-five patients with equivocal MRI findings of lumbar discitis/osteomyelitis vs endplate degenerative changes were reviewed over a 24-month period. Patients with a history of surgery, fractures/recent trauma, signs of advanced infection such as abscesses, phlegmon or severe osseous destruction were excluded. Two ABR board certified neuroradiologists who were blinded to the final diagnosis evaluated a new marker; the superior-inferior paraspinal edema ratio (SI-PER). The SI-PER was obtained by measuring the superior-inferior extent of increased signal/edema in the paraspinal soft tissues on the paraspinal inversion recovery images divided by the vertebral body height measured at midpoint. Cases positive for spondylodiscitis were those confirmed by biopsy, aspiration/drainage, surgery, or clinical improvement following antibiotic treatment. The diagnostic sensitivity and specificity of SI-PER were determined by Receiver operating characteristic (ROC) analysis. Results: In 23/35 (66%) patients, the diagnosis of discitis/osteomyelitis was confirmed. The SI-PER showed a significant association with a positive MRI diagnosis (p = 0.001). Inter-observer correlation for SI-PER was 0.92. ROC analysis showed an area under the curve of 0.84. A SI-PER of 2.5 was 96% sensitive and 75% specific for the diagnosis of discitis/osteomyelitis, with a PPV of 88% and a NPV of 90%. Conclusion: In this study, the superior inferior paraspinal edema ratio (SI-PER), a newly defined MRI marker, was found to have high sensitivity for differentiating spondylodiscitis from endplate degenerative changes on lumbar spine MRI.
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