Most forms of arthritis do show on an MRI.
With more than 200 identified types of arthritis, people may find it difficult to classify joint pain on their own. Fortunately, the most common forms of arthritis can be diagnosed by visiting a doctor and obtaining an MRI image of the joint. MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, utilizes a magnet that is connected to a computer to produce gray scale images of a cross section of the body. This diagnostic method is preferable to x-ray in some cases because it is able to provide a detailed view of soft tissue like blood vessels, organs, and in the case of arthritis, cartilage, muscles, and ligaments. MRI has also proven its ability to detect slight changes in the body that allow doctors to diagnose the signs of certain types of arthritis earlier than when other diagnostic methods are used.
MRI and Rheumatoid Arthritis
If a patient suspects he or she may have rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic condition that is estimated to affect more than 1.5 million people in the U.S., doctors may use MRI as this method can be utilized for early detection. Not only is MRI useful in detecting synovitis, the first identifiable stage of rheumatoid arthritis, but the method can also detect early bone damage because it becomes evident enough to appear on an x-ray. Doctors also use MRI to monitor the rate of synovial inflammation in the affected joint when assessing the effectiveness of a given treatment.
Using MRI to Determine Type of Arthritis
Currently, distinguishing between psoriatic arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis can be difficult for medical experts. A recent study indicates that because MRI scans are able to depict very small changes in the body, this technology may be useful in determining whether a patient is suffering from psoriatic or rheumatoid arthritis. The study may prove to be a promising breakthrough as current diagnostic methods that are used to distinguish psoriatic arthritis are not always sufficient.
While MRI may be a better diagnostic tool than others in the case of certain types of arthritis, patients should discuss their symptoms and method of diagnosis with a healthcare professional. Each diagnostic tool has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. A qualified healthcare professional may be able to explain the potential outcome of using each method and help patients decide with tool is most appropriate.
Types of Arthritis
American Journal of Roentgenology; Nathalie Boutry
Early Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Review of MRI and Sonographic Findings
2007; Volume: 189; No: 6