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Diffusion-weighted MR imaging for the diagnosis of abscess complicating fistula-in-ano: preliminary experience

  • Gastrointestinal
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To investigate the role of diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (DWMRI) in the diagnosis of abscess-complicating fistula-in-ano.


This retrospective study was approved by our Institutional Review Board and informed consent was waived. MRI examinations, including fat-suppressed T2-weighted turbo spin-echo (T2-TSE) MRI and DWMRI, of 24 patients with a fistula-in-ano, were reviewed by two independent readers for the presence and number of visible fistulas, conspicuity and apparent diffusion coefficient (ADC) measurement of suspected fistula tracks and pelvic collections. The reference standard was surgical with follow-up findings.


Sensitivity was 91.2 % [95 % CI: 76 %-98 %] for T2-weighted TSE MRI and 100 % [95 % CI: 90 %-100 %] for DWMRI detecting fistulas. ADC values were lower in abscesses than in inflammatory masses (P = 0.714.10-6). The area under the ROC curve was 0.971 and the optimal cut-off ADC value was 1.186 × 10-3 mm2/s, yielding a sensitivity of 100 % [95 % CI: 77 %-100 %], a specificity of 90 % [95 % CI: 66 %-100 %], a positive predictive value of 93 % [95 % CI: 82.8 %-100 %] and a negative predictive value of 90 % [95 % CI: 78 %-100 %] for an abscess diagnosis. Fistula conspicuity was greater with DWMRI than with T2-TSE MRI for the two observers (P = 0.0034 and P = 0.0007).


DWMRI shows high sensitivity and specificity for the diagnosis of perianal abscesses and helps discriminate between an abscess and inflammatory mass. Conspicuity of fistulas-in-ano is greater with DWMRI than with T2-weighted TSE MRI.

Key Points

DWMRI can differentiate between pelvic abscess and inflammatory mass.

DWMRI helps avoid gadolinium-chelate administration in patients with a suspected fistula-in-ano.

DWMRI provides high degrees of conspicuity for fistula-in-ano.

Conspicuity of fistulas is better with DWMRI imaging than with T2-TSE-weighted MRI.

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The scientific guarantor of this publication is Anthony DOHAN, MD. The authors of this manuscript declare no relationships with any companies, whose products or services may be related to the subject matter of the article. The authors state that this work has not received any funding. No complex statistical methods were necessary for this paper. Institutional Review Board approval was obtained. Written informed consent was waived by the Institutional Review Board. Methodology: retrospective, case-control study, performed at one institution.

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Correspondence to Anthony Dohan.

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Dohan, A., Eveno, C., Oprea, R. et al. Diffusion-weighted MR imaging for the diagnosis of abscess complicating fistula-in-ano: preliminary experience. Eur Radiol 24, 2906–2915 (2014).

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