Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: Thin-Section CT Measurement of Airway Wall Thickness and Lung Attenuation

PURPOSE: To prospectively evaluate airway wall thickness and lung attenuation at spirometrically gated thin-section computed tomography (CT) in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and to correlate gated CT findings with pulmonary function test (PFT) results.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: The ethical committee approved the study, and all patients gave informed consent. Forty-two consecutive patients with COPD (20 with and 22 without chronic bronchitis [CB]) underwent gated thin-section CT and PFTs on the same day. The percentage wall area (PWA) and the thickness-to-diameter ratio (TDR) for all depicted bronchi that were round and larger than 2 mm in diameter, the mean lung attenuation (MLA), and the pixel index (PI) at −950 HU were determined. The reproducibility of the airway measurements was preliminarily tested by performing a five-trial examination in a patient with COPD and in a control patient. Differences in airway and lung attenuation measurements between the patients with and those without CB were evaluated at Mann-Whitney U testing. Simple and multiple regression analyses were used to assess the correlation between thin-section CT and PFT measurements.

RESULTS: The mean intraoperator coefficient of variation for airway measurements was 7.8% (range, 3.8%–13.4%). An average of nine bronchi per patient were assessed. Patients with CB had significantly higher PWAs, TDRs, and MLAs and significantly lower PIs than patients without CB (P < .05 for all values). The combination of PWA, TDR, and PWA normalized to body weight correlated significantly (P < .05) with the forced expiratory volume in 1 second–to–slow vital capacity ratio and the diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide in patients with but not in patients without CB. PFT results correlated better with MLA and PI in patients without CB.

CONCLUSION: Bronchial wall measurements differ between patients who have COPD with CB and those who have COPD without CB. The correlation between airway dimensions and indexes of airway obstruction in patients with COPD and CB indicates that the bronchial tree is the site of anatomic-functional alterations in this patient group.

© RSNA, 2005


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Article History

Published in print: Feb 2005