The diagnostic role of gadolinium enhanced MRI in distinguishing between acute medullary bone infarct and osteomyelitis

Hilary Umans, Nogah Haramati, Gideon Flusser

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101 Scopus citations


The objective of the study was to evaluate the diagnostic utility of contrast enhanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for distinguishing between acute medullary bone infarct and osteomyelitis. There were 11 patients (age 6-34 years) presented to our institution between December 1994 and February 1998 with a clinical differential diagnosis of acute bone infect versus osteomyelitis and inconclusive radiographs were imaged using MRI. All but one received i.v. gadolinium. Nine of the patients had homozygous Sickle Cell disease (SCD) and two had Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE), the latter requiring chronic methylprednisolone. Osteomyelitis was confirmed either by biopsy alone or by the combination of Gallium67 scan in conjunction with positive blood cultures and clinical resolution following antibiotics. Infarcts without osteomyelitis were confirmed either by biopsy or resolution of symptoms without antibiotic therapy. All patients had at least six months clinical follow-up. The results found that seven of nine patients with SCD had acute infarct only. One patient with SCD had osteomyelitis only. Three patients (two SLE and one SCD) had both acute-on-chronic infarcts and superimposed osteomyelitis, one with an adjacent soft tissue abscess. Accurate distinction between infarct and osteomyelitis was impossible for one patient with SLE who did not receive contrast. All other cases were correctly diagnosed prospectively based on distinct patterns of MRI contrast enhancement. In all adult patients, acute infarcts demonstrated thin, linear rim enhancement on MRI while osteomyelitis revealed more geographic and irregular marrow enhancement. Two of four cases of osteomyelitis also demonstrated subtle cortical defects with abnormal signal traversing marrow and soft tissue. The single pediatric patient demonstrated elongated, serpiginous central medullary enhancement with periostitis. We concluded that the pattern of MR contrast enhancement may allow accurate distinction between acute infarct and osteomyelitis, or recognition of osteomyelitis superimposed on bone infarction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)255-262
Number of pages8
JournalMagnetic Resonance Imaging
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2000


  • Medullary bone infarct
  • Osteomyelitis
  • Osteonecrosis
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Systemic lupus erythematosus

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biophysics
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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