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Eur J Radiol. 1998 May;27 Suppl 1:S7-11.

Diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis.

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Diagnostic Imaging Department, IRCCS Casa Sollievo della Sofferenza, S. Giovanni Rotondo (FG), Italy.



To describe the axial and appendicular skeleton findings of diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis. To analyze the role of conventional radiography, computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in the diagnosis of this condition. To discuss the differential diagnosis and diagnostic pitfalls of this disease.


The involvement of vertebral and extravertebral sites including the pelvis, calcaneum, ulnar olecranon, and patella is frequently found in the literature. The lesions described are the anterior and lateral ossification of the spine, hyperostosis at sites of tendon and ligament insertion, ligamentous ossification, and periarticular osteophytes. The criteria for the diagnosis of diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis involving the spine are: flowing ossification along the anterior and anterolateral aspects of at least four contiguous vertebrae, preserved intervertebral disc height, no bony ankylosis of the posterior spinal facet joints, and finally no erosion, sclerosis or bony ankylosis of the sacroiliac joints.


The disease has about the same frequency in men (65%) and women (35%); it is most common in the thoracic spine and occurs less frequently in the lumbar and cervical spine. The disease most commonly presents in the sixth and seventh decades of life and its estimated frequency in the elderly is 5-15%. Signs and symptoms include stiffness and pain in the back, dysphagia due to direct esophageal compression/distorsion, pain related to associated tendinitis, myelopathy related to core compression associated to the ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament, and pain related to vertebral complications--e.g. fracture/subluxation.


While conventional radiography clearly confirms the diagnosis of diffuse idiopathic skeletal hyperostosis, CT and MRI better detect associated findings (e.g. ossification of the posterior longitudinal ligament) and complications (e.g. spinal cord compressive myelomalacia).

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