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Open Access Open Badges Research article

Predicting persistent inflammatory arthritis amongst early arthritis clinic patients in the UK: is musculoskeletal ultrasound required?

Arthur G Pratt12, Alice R Lorenzi2, Gill Wilson3, Philip N Platt2 and John D Isaacs12*

Author Affiliations

1 Musculoskeletal Research Group, Institute for Cellular Medicine, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

2 Musculoskeletal Unit, The Freeman Hospital, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

3 Faculty of Health and Social Care, University of Hull, Hull, UK

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Arthritis Research & Therapy 2013, 15:R118  doi:10.1186/ar4298

Published: 12 September 2013



Analyses of large clinical datasets from early arthritis cohorts permit the development of algorithms that may be used for outcome prediction in individual patients. The value added by routine use of musculoskeletal ultrasound (MSUS) in an early arthritis setting, as a component of such predictive algorithms, remains to be determined.


The authors undertook a retrospective analysis of a large, true-to-life, observational inception cohort of early arthritis patients in Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, which included patients with inflammatory arthralgia but no clinically swollen joints. A pragmatic, 10-minute MSUS assessment protocol was developed, and applied to each of these patients at baseline. Logistic regression was used to develop two "risk metrics" that predicted the development of a persistent inflammatory arthritis (PIA), with or without the inclusion of MSUS parameters.


A total of 379 enrolled patients were assigned definitive diagnoses after ≥12 months follow-up (median 28 months), of whom 162 (42%) developed a persistent inflammatory arthritis. A risk metric derived from 12 baseline clinical and serological parameters alone had an excellent discriminatory utility with respect to an outcome of PIA (area under receiver operator characteristic (ROC) curve 0.91; 95% CI 0.88 to 0.94). The discriminatory utility of a similar metric, which incorporated MSUS parameters, was not significantly superior (area under ROC curve 0.91; 95% CI 0.89 to 0.94). Neither did this approach identify an added value of MSUS over the use of routine clinical parameters in an algorithm for discriminating PIA patients whose outcome diagnosis was rheumatoid arthritis (RA).


MSUS use as a routine component of assessment in an early arthritis clinic did not add substantial discriminatory value to a risk metric for predicting PIA.