Leukocyte esterase analysis in the diagnosis of joint infection: Can we make a diagnosis using a simple urine dipstick?

Otis C. Colvin, Mark J. Kransdorf, Catherine C. Roberts, F. Spencer Chivers, Roxanne Lorans, Christopher P. Beauchamp, Adam J. Schwartz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Purpose: Analysis of joint fluid remains a key factor in the diagnosis of periprosthetic infection. Recent reports have shown that neutrophils in infected joint fluid release esterase, an enzyme that is a reliable marker for infection. Testing for leukocyte esterase is routinely done in the analysis of urine for the presence of urinary tract infection, by a simple “dipstick” method. We report our experience with this technique in the evaluation of patients suspected of having septic arthritis or periprosthetic joint infection (PJI) by comparing results of leukocyte esterase positivity with confirmed joint infection as defined by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS).

Materials and methods: We retrospectively reviewed leukocyte esterase test results performed on synovial fluid aspirated from 57 patients with prosthetic (52) and native (5) joints. Patients either presented with unexplained painful arthroplasties, routine testing of PROSTALAC (PROSthesis with Antibiotic-Loaded Acrylic Cement) orthopedic implants, or clinical suspicion of periprosthetic infection or septic arthritis. Synovial fluid was percutaneously aspirated using a standard technique. The patient age range was 31–91 years with a mean age of 69.1 years, consisting of 30 women (52.6 %) and 27 men (47.4 %). The “gold standard” for the presence or absence of infection at our institution and in the study group was based on the most recent recommendations of the AAOS. Positive culture remained the “gold standard” for native joint infection.

Results: Of the total 57 joints aspirated and included in the study, 20 (35.1 %) were read as positive (2+) on the leukocyte test strip and 37 (64.9 %) were read as negative (negative, trace, or 1+). PJI was diagnosed in 19 patients and native joint septic arthritis was identified in one patient. Sensitivities were excellent at 100 % with no false negatives in the entire cohort. There was one false positive in the periprosthetic group yielding a specificity, positive predictive value and negative predictive value of 97, 95, and 100 %, respectively. The results for the native joints showed markedly less specificity and positive predictive value at 50 and 33 %; however, its negative predictive value remained at 100 %.

Conclusions: Our test results confirm that the leukocyte esterase test can accurately detect PJI and that it can be used as a part of the traditional PJI workup. In the assessment of native joints, its high negative predictive value suggests that it is a valuable tool in excluding native joint septic arthritis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)673-677
Number of pages5
JournalSkeletal Radiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 18 2015


  • Joint infection
  • Leukocyte esterase
  • Periprosthetic infection
  • Septic arthritis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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