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Limitations of ultrasonography for diagnosing white matter damage in preterm infants
  1. T Debillon1,
  2. S N’Guyen1,
  3. A Muet1,
  4. M P Quere2,
  5. F Moussaly2,
  6. J C Roze1
  1. 1Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, University Hospital, Nantes, France
  2. 2Radiology and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Unit, University Hospital, Nantes
  1. Correspondence to:
    Dr Debillon, Service de Néonatologie, Hôpital Mére-Enfant, 9 Quai Moncousu, CHRU Nantes 44 093, Nantes Cedex 01, France;


Objectives: To compare the accuracy of ultrasonography (US) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in diagnosing white matter abnormalities in preterm infants and to determine the specific indications for MRI.

Design: Prospective cohort study.

Setting: A neonatal intensive care unit in France.

Patients: All preterm infants (≤ 33 weeks gestation) without severe respiratory distress syndrome precluding MRI.

Main outcome measures: US and MRI performed contemporaneously during the third postnatal week were analysed by an independent observer. The findings were compared with those of a term MRI scan, the results of which were taken as the final diagnosis. Statistical analysis was performed to determine which early imaging study best predicted the term MRI findings.

Results: The early US and MRI findings (79 infants) correlated closely for severe lesions (cystic periventricular leucomalacia and parenchymal infarction; κ coefficient = 0.86) but not for moderate lesions (non-cystic leucomalacia and parenchymal punctate haemorrhages; κ = 0.62). Overall, early MRI findings predicted late MRI findings in 98% of patients (95% confidence interval (CI) 89.5 to 99.9) compared with only 68% for early US (95% CI 52.1 to 79.2).

Conclusions: US is highly effective in detecting severe lesions of the white matter in preterm infants, but MRI seems to be necessary for the diagnosis of less severe damage. MRI performed at about the third week of life is highly predictive of the final diagnosis at term.

  • white matter damage
  • preterm
  • early diagnosis
  • magnetic resonance imaging
  • ultrasonography
  • PVL, periventricular leucomalacia
  • WMD, white matter damage
  • US, ultrasonography
  • MRI, magnetic resonance imaging

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