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Clinics (Sao Paulo). 2007 Feb;62(1):69-76.

Autopsy-proven causes of death in lungs of patients immunocompromised by secondary interstitial pneumonia.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, São Paulo University Medical School, São Paulo, SP, Brazil.



To present the more frequent associations found in autopsies of immunocompromised patients who developed secondary interstitial pneumonia as well as the risk of death (odds ratio) in having specific secondary interstitial pneumonia according to the cause of immunocompromise.


From January 1994 to March 2004, 17,000 autopsies were performed at Hospital das Clínicas, São Paulo University Medical School. After examining the pathology report review, we selected 558 of these autopsies (3.28%) from patients aged 15 years or more with primary underlying diseases who developed radiologically diffuse infiltrates of the lung during their hospital course and died after secondary interstitial pneumonia (bronchopneumonia, lobar pneumonia, interstitial pneumonia, diffuse alveolar damage, pulmonary recurrence of underlying disease, drug-induced lung disease, cardiogenic pulmonary edema, or pulmonary embolism). Histology slides were reviewed by experienced pathologists to confirm or not the presence of secondary interstitial pneumonia. Statistical analysis included the Fisher exact test to verify any association between histopathology and the cause of immunocompromise; a logistic regression was used to predict the risk of death for specific histological findings for each of the independent variables in the model.


Secondary interstitial pneumonia was histologically represented by diffuse interstitial pneumonitis ranging from mild nonspecific findings (n = 213) to a pattern of diffuse alveolar damage (n = 273). The principal causes of immunocompromise in patients with diffuse alveolar damage were sepsis (136 cases), neoplasia (113 cases), diabetes mellitus (37 cases), and transplantation (48 cases). A high risk of death by pulmonary edema was found for patients with carcinoma of colon. Similarly, in patients with lung cancer or cachexia, A high risk of death by bronchopneumonia (OR = 3.6; OR = 2.6, respectively) was found. Pulmonary thromboembolism was associated with an appreciable risk of death (OR = 2.4) in patients with arterial hypertension. The risk of death was also high in patients presenting hepatic cancer (OR = 2.5) or steroid therapy (OR = 2.4) who developed pulmonary hemorrhage as the histological pattern of secondary interstitial pneumonia . The risk of death by lung metastasis was also elevated (OR = 1.6) for patients that were immunosuppressed after radiotherapy.


Patients with secondary immunosuppression who developed secondary interstitial pneumonia during treatment in hospital should be evaluated to avoid death by diffuse alveolar damage, pulmonary edema, bronchopneumonia, lung hemorrhage, pulmonary thromboembolism, or lung metastasis. The high-risk patients are those immunosuppressed by hematologic disease; those under steroid treatment; or those with colon or hepatic carcinoma, cachexia, or arterial hypertension.

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