Combined Pulmonary Fibrosis and Emphysema in Scleroderma-Related Lung Disease Has a Major Confounding Effect on Lung Physiology and Screening for Pulmonary Hypertension

K M Antoniou, G A Margaritopoulos, N S Goh, K Karagiannis, S R Desai, A G Nicholson, N M Siafakas, J G Coghlan, C P Denton, D M Hansell, A U Wells
Arthritis & Rheumatology 2016, 68 (4): 1004-12

OBJECTIVE: To assess the prevalence of combined pulmonary fibrosis and emphysema (CPFE) in systemic sclerosis (SSc) patients with interstitial lung disease (ILD) and the effect of CPFE on the pulmonary function tests used to evaluate the severity of SSc-related ILD and the likelihood of pulmonary hypertension (PH).

METHODS: High-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) scans were obtained in 333 patients with SSc-related ILD and were evaluated for the presence of emphysema and the extent of ILD. The effects of emphysema on the associations between pulmonary function variables and the extent of SSc-related ILD as visualized on HRCT and echocardiographic evidence of PH were quantified.

RESULTS: Emphysema was present in 41 (12.3%) of the 333 patients with SSc-related ILD, in 26 (19.7%) of 132 smokers, and in 15 (7.5%) of 201 lifelong nonsmokers. When the extent of fibrosis was taken into account, emphysema was associated with significant additional differences from the expected values for diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (DLco) (average reduction of 24.1%; P < 0.0005), and the forced vital capacity (FVC)/DLco ratio (average increase of 34.8%; P < 0.0005) but not FVC. These effects were identical in smokers and nonsmokers. Multivariate analysis showed that the presence of emphysema had a greater effect than echocardiographically determined PH on the FVC/DLco ratio, regardless of whether it was analyzed as a continuous variable or using a threshold value of 1.6 or 2.0.

CONCLUSION: Among patients with SSc-related ILD, emphysema is sporadically present in nonsmokers and is associated with a low pack-year history in smokers. The confounding effect of CPFE on measures of gas exchange has major implications for the construction of screening algorithms for PH in patients with SSc-related ILD.

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