A 3-day delay in synovial fluid crystal identification did not hinder the reliable detection of monosodium urate and calcium pyrophosphate crystals.J Clin Rheumatol. 2013 Aug; 19(5):241-5.JC
Arthrocentesis is an essential emergency step in managing patients with acute arthritis. To identify a bacterial infection, Gram staining is performed promptly. However, crystal analysis may not be immediately performed in many facilities. Being considered not to be stable over time, synovial fluid (SF) is sometimes discarded instead of being stored for crystal identification.
The aim of this study was to assess the detectability of monosodium urate (MSU) and calcium pyrophosphate (CPP) crystals in SF over a period of 3 days.
Consecutive SF samples from 75 joints were analyzed for MSU, CPP crystals, and pH. Two independent observers evaluated the samples by regular light and polarization microscopy immediately after arthrocentesis and after 1, 2, and 3 days at room temperature or at 4°C.
Of 75 samples, 27 contained crystals (16 MSU, 6 CPP, 5 both); semiquantitative counts of both MSU and CPP crystals did not change significantly after 3 days. There was no new formation of crystals in any of the crystal-negative samples, which was independent of the storage temperature. Synovial fluid pH was not predictive of crystals and did not change over time.
Although immediate workup for microbiology, including Gram stain and culture, is indispensable and well established, crystal analysis may at times not be immediately performed. Our study suggests that when crystal identification cannot be done immediately, it can be safely performed up to 3 days after arthrocentesis when SF is stored at 4°C or even at stable room temperature (20°C).