Chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis: use of CT in diagnosis

D L Buschman, G Gamsu, J A Waldron, J S Klein, T E King
AJR. American Journal of Roentgenology 1992, 159 (5): 957-60

OBJECTIVE: In its subacute or chronic form, hypersensitivity pneumonitis is often difficult to distinguish clinically and physiologically from other idiopathic diffuse lung diseases. The aim of this study was to identify high-resolution CT features that allow distinction of chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis from other chronic diffuse parenchymal lung diseases.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Six patients with chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis were examined with pulmonary function testing, bronchoalveolar lavage, lung biopsy, chest radiography, and high-resolution CT. The chest radiographs and high-resolution CT scans were reviewed independently by three observers without knowledge of the patients' clinical status. Discrepancies between the observers were resolved by consensus.

RESULTS: The chest radiographs revealed normal lung volumes with a combination of abnormalities: a mixed alveolar/interstitial pattern in five cases, peribronchiolar thickening in three, a diffuse granular pattern in one, and a linear fibrotic pattern in one. In general, the high-resolution CT scans showed more abnormalities than were apparent on the plain chest radiographs. High-resolution CT revealed centrilobular, peribronchiolar, indistinct nodular opacities, of various numbers, in all cases. Four cases had areas of ground-glass density, three cases had lobular areas of hyperlucency, and one case had areas of pulmonary fibrosis and honeycombing.

CONCLUSION: We confirm that high-resolution CT can most clearly show the type and distribution of parenchymal abnormalities in patients with hypersensitivity pneumonitis. Importantly, although not pathognomonic, the high-resolution CT finding of centrilobular, peribronchiolar, indistinct nodules should suggest the diagnosis of chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

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