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Evaluating the role of single-photon emission computed tomography in the assessment of neurotologic complaints

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May 8, 2014
by Shruti S. Joglekar, MD; Jason R. Bell, MD; Malka Caroline, MD; Paul J. Chase, DO, FAOCR; James Domesek, MD; Pinal S. Patel, ARRT, CNMT; Robert T. Sataloff, MD, DMA, FACS


We conducted a retrospective study to reexamine the value of single-photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) in the evaluation of patients with neurotologic complaints, and to assess the intra- and inter-radiologist variability of SPECT readings. Our study population was made up of 63 patients-23 men and 40 women, aged 34 to 91 years (mean: 59)-who had presented to a tertiary care otolaryngology practice and university hospital for evaluation of head trauma, sensorineural hearing loss, tinnitus, and/or vertigo. All patients had undergone brain scanning with SPECT during their evaluation, and almost all had also undergone magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and standard computed tomography (CT). We compared the findings of all three imaging modalities in terms of their ability to detect neurotologic abnormalities. We found that detection rates were very similar among the three modalities; abnormalities were found in 24% of SPECT scans, 26% of MRIs, and 23% of CTs. Nevertheless, we did find that among 60 patients who underwent all three types of imaging, 13 (22%) exhibited areas of cerebral hypoperfusion on SPECT while their MRIs and CTs were read as either normal or nonspecific. In all, 18 of these 60 patients (30%) exhibited normal or nonspecific findings on all three types of imaging. In addition, when SPECT scans were read by the same radiologist at different times, different results were reported for 17 of the 63 scans (27%). Likewise, when SPECT scans were read by different radiologists, different results were reported for 21 of 63 scans (33%). We conclude that SPECT may be a valuable complementary diagnostic modality for making a comprehensive neurotologic evaluation and that it may detect abnormalities in some patients whose other imaging is read as normal. However, we did not find that SPECT was the most sensitive of the three modalities in neurotologic evaluation, as we had previously found in a preliminary study that the senior author (R.T.S.) published in 1996. In addition, with respect to our radiologists, both their intra- and inter-reader reliability was low, and we recommend additional study on this matter.

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