OBJECTIVE The objective of our study was to compare MRI findings in the sacroiliac joints of postpartum women (as a model of mechanical changes) and women with known axial spondyloarthritis (as an inflammatory model).
SUBJECTS AND METHODS For this prospective multicenter age-matched, case-control study, sacroiliac joint MRI examinations of 30 healthy women (mean age, 34.0 years) in the early postpartum period (mechanical group) and 30 age-matched women (mean age, 33.8 years) with known axial spondyloarthritis (retrospective inflammatory group) were compared. Blinded to clinical information, readers assessed MR images using the following scoring systems: Spondyloarthritis Research Consortium of Canada (SPARCC) MRI index, Berlin method, Assessment of Spondyloarthritis International Society (ASAS) criteria, and SPARCC MRI structural score. Descriptive statistics as percentages of the different findings (i.e., bone marrow edema [BME], erosion, fatty bone marrow replacement, backfill, ankylosis) and scores between groups and between delivery modes were compared.
RESULTS In the postpartum group, 63.3% (19/30) of women showed BME around the sacroiliac joints compared with 86.7% (26/30) of women in the spondyloarthritis group (based on ASAS criteria). Erosions were uncommon in the postpartum group (10.0% [3/30] postpartum vs 56.7% [17/30] spondyloarthritis). Fatty bone marrow replacement, backfill, and ankylosis were not seen in the postpartum group. In subjects with positive MRI findings for sacroiliitis based on ASAS criteria, the SPARCC MRI index (mean ± SD, 13.6 ± 14.5 vs 13.0 ± 10.7; p = 0.818) and Berlin method (4.5 ± 3.0 and 5.5 ± 3.5, p = 0.378) were not different between the postpartum and spondyloarthritis groups. Scores were not different between birth modalities.
CONCLUSION Pregnancy-induced BME at the sacroiliac joints, as a result of prolonged mechanical stress, was present in 63.3% of women who underwent MRI during the early postpartum period and may mimic sacroiliitis of axial spondyloarthritis.