What is the role of imaging in the diagnosis of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (ADEM)?

Updated: Nov 08, 2018
  • Author: J Nicholas Brenton, MD; Chief Editor: Tarakad S Ramachandran, MBBS, MBA, MPH, FAAN, FACP, FAHA, FRCP, FRCPC, FRS, LRCP, MRCP, MRCS  more...
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Magnetization transfer MRI, single photon emission CT scanning, or nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy may possibly prove helpful in distinguishing ADEM from alternative diagnoses, although the development of a pathognomonic imaging result is unlikely. For these reasons, diagnosing ADEM on the basis of findings on scanning alone is dangerous. Diagnosis of ADEM should always rest on clinical grounds in children as in adults.

  • Radiographic studies and other laboratory tests are especially valuable in ruling in or out alternative diagnoses.

From a retrospective analysis, Callen et al propose diagnostic criteria for MRI to distinguish a first MS attack in children from those with acute disseminated encephalomyelitis. Any 2 of the following criteria could distinguish MS from acute disseminated encephalomyelitis (sensitivity 81%, specificity 95%): (1) absence of a diffuse bilateral lesion pattern, (2) presence of black holes, and (3) presence of 2 or more periventricular lesions. [11]

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