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Radiol Med. 1997 Apr;93(4):374-81.

[Quantitative assessment of pulmonary emphysema with computerized tomography. Comparison of the visual score and high resolution computerized tomography, expiratory density mask with spiral computerized tomography and respiratory function tests].

[Article in Italian]

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Radiologia padiglione Pneumonefro, Policlinico S. Orsola-Malpighi, Bologna.


CT is the most accurate method to detect pulmonary emphysema in vivo. We compared prospectively two different methods for emphysema quantitation in 5 normal volunteers and 20 consecutive patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). All subjects were submitted to function tests and HRCT; three scans were acquired at preselected levels during inspiration. The type and extent of pulmonary emphysema were defined, using the time-honored visual score system, by two independent observers under blind conditions. Disagreements were subsequently settled by consent. All subjects were also examined with expiratory spiral CT, using a density mask program, at two different cut-off levels (-850, -900 HU). Visual score and expiratory spiral density mask values (-850 HU) were significantly correlated (r = 0.86), but the visual extent of emphysema was always higher than shown by expiratory spiral CT. The emphysema extent assessed with both CT methods correlated with the function result of expiratory airflow obstruction and gas diffusion impairment (visual score versus forced expiratory volume in one second: r = -0.81, versus single breath carbon monoxide diffusion: r = -0.78. Spiral expiratory density mask -850 HU versus forced expiratory volume in one second: r = -0.85, versus single breath carbon monoxide diffusion: r = -0.77). When -900 HU was used as the cut-off value for the expiratory density mask, the correlation with single breath carbon monoxide diffusion worsened (r = -0.56). Visual score and expiratory density mask -850 HU gave similar results and permitted COPD patients to be clearly distinguished from normal controls (p < 0.01). Residual lung volume, measured with expiratory spiral CT correlated significantly with residual volume measured with the helium dilution technique (r = 0.66), but CT values were always higher than function results. We believe the true residual volume should lie somewhere in between the CT value and the function results with the helium dilution technique and conclude that the extent of pulmonary emphysema can be confidently assessed with CT methods. Finally, the simple visual score may be as reliable as such highly sophisticated new methods as the spiral expiratory density mask. Expiratory studies offer new insights into different normal and abnormal features of COPD and respiratory impairment.

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