Aim: To prove the hypothesis that acute bone infarcts in sickle cell disease are caused by sequestration of red blood cells (RBCs) in bone marrow, and to evaluate the unenhanced T1 fat-saturated (fs) sequence in the differentiation of acute bone infarction from acute osteomyelitis in patients with sickle-cell disease. Materials and methods: Two studies were undertaken: an experimental study using in-vitro packed red blood cells and normal volunteers, and a retrospective clinical study of 86 magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies. For the experimental study containers of packed RBCs were placed between the knees of four healthy volunteers with a saline bag under the containers as an additional control, and were scanned with the pre-contrast T1-fs sequence. Signal intensity (SI) ratios were obtained for packed RBCs:skeletal muscle and packed RBCs:saline. For the clinical study, the SIs of normal bone marrow, packed RBCs, bone and/or soft-tissue lesions, and normal skeletal muscle of 74 patients (86 MRI studies) were measured using unenhanced, T1 fat-saturated MRI. The ratios of the above SIs to normal skeletal muscle were calculated and subjected to statistical analysis. Results: Fifty-one of 86 MRI studies were included in the final analysis. The ratios of SIs for normal bone marrow, packed red cells, bone infarction, acute osteomyelitis, and soft-tissue lesions associated with bone infarct, compared with normal skeletal muscle were (mean ± SD) 0.9 ± 0.2, 2.1 ± 0.7, 1.7 ± 0.5, 1.0 ± 0.3, and 2.2 ± 0.7, respectively. The difference in the ratio of SIs of bone infarcts and osteomyelitis was significant (p = 0.003). The final diagnoses were bone infarction (n = 50), acute osteomyelitis (n = 1), and co-existent bone infarction and osteomyelitis (n = 2). Seven patients who had suspected osteomyelitis underwent image-guided aspiration. Conclusion: Acute bone infarcts in sickle cell disease are caused by sequestration of red blood cells in the bone marrow. The unenhanced, T1-fat-saturated sequence alone is diagnostic for acute bone infarcts. Contrast enhancement aids in the diagnosis of acute osteomyelitis. MRI can thus help in early diagnosis, specific treatment, and preventing empirical antibiotic therapy.
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