Quantitative CT scans may help identify chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients at a heightened risk of flare-ups more effectively than spirometry, according to a recent study published in the journal of Radiology.
The study, which was conducted by researchers from National Jewish Health and the COPDGene research consortium, identified a correlation between symptom exacerbations and the level of tissue destruction (emphysema) and thickness of the airway walls. Researchers note that the worse the emphysema and airway wall inflammation, the more likely the patient is to have a COPD exacerbation.
Because quantitative CT scans digitally measure lighter and darker areas of the scanned area to detect inflammation and tissue damage, doctors are able to better measure emphysema and airway wall inflammation using this method. This is not possible with spirometry tests because they only measure airflow obstruction.
“The findings also help us identify distinct phenotypes among the COPD patient population, who could benefit from individualized, targeted management of their disease,” James D. Crapo, MD, professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colo., and co-author of the paper, said in a release about the study.
COPD exacerbations can deplete lung function and often require hospitalization, which makes recognizing symptoms important in COPD management. Identifying at-risk patients before they experience exacerbations is a step toward better treatment, as doctors can ensure that those patients have flare-up medications on hand and can emphasize the importance of an exacerbation action plan so that patients know what to do when an exacerbation happens.