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Communications to the Editor |

Severe Centrilobular Emphysema in a Patient Without Airflow Obstruction FREE TO VIEW

John Reid, MD; Donald Cockcroft, MD
Author and Funding Information

University of Saskatoon Saskatoon, SK, Canada

Correspondence to: John Reid, MD, University of Saskatchewan, Fifth Floor, Ellis Hall, 103 Hospital Dr, Saskatoon, SK, Canada S7N 0Z1; e-mail: reidj1970@hotmail.com



Chest. 2002;121(1):307-308. doi:10.1378/chest.121.1.307
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Published online

To the Editor:

Emphysema is a pathologic diagnosis that often accompanies the clinical finding of chronic airflow limitation. Although these two components often coexist, they may not necessarily progress in synchrony. We report a patient with severe smoking-related centrilobular emphysema and hypoxemic respiratory failure, whose pulmonary function was normal except for a low diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (Dlco).

An 81-year-old white woman, a 30-pack-year ex-smoker, had progressive and marked exertional dyspnea, and resting hypoxemia requiring supplemental oxygen. She was slightly overweight with no chest wall deformity and no clubbing. Breath sounds were normal with no wheezes and only few inspiratory crackles in both bases. There was an accentuated pulmonic component of the second heart sound but no evidence of left- or right-heart failure.

Expiratory flow rates were normal (FEV1, 1.3 L[ 108%]; FVC, 2.0 L [107%]). Lung volumes via dilution were all slightly elevated. Dlco was severely reduced, at 4 mL/mm Hg/min (23%). The expiratory flow-volume loop is shown in Figure 1 . Chest radiographic findings were normal. Radionucleotide ventilation-perfusion lung scan findings were low probability for thromboembolism, and ultrasound revealed patent leg veins. Resting room air blood gases showed the following findings: Pao2, 52 mm Hg; Paco2, 37 mm Hg; arterial oxygen saturation, 88%, which decreased to 78% following a brief walk. Hemoglobin level was 16.6 g/dL. High-resolution CT scan (HRCT) showed diffuse centrilobular emphysema, with no bullae or interstitial disease (Fig 2 ). Home oxygen therapy was continued, and treatment with inhaled bronchodilation was initiated in attempt to improve her dyspnea. She remained in clinically stable condition and was oxygen dependent.

This case is unusual in that emphysema was severe enough to cause marked dyspnea, resting hypoxemia, and a severely reduced Dlco, despite normal chest radiographic findings, normal expiratory flows, and near-normal static lung volumes. Since this is physiologically possible13 but clinically uncommon, other causes of dyspnea, hypoxemia, and decreased Dlco were considered and excluded.

The classic teaching holds that emphysema causes loss of elastic recoil and thereby “functional” airways obstruction. Although emphysematous airspace destruction commonly occurs with airflow obstruction, the two are not interdependent processes.13 Results of the HRCT of the chest correlate well with histologic emphysema45 and have helped to identify patients with emphysema but not airflow obstruction. To our knowledge, other reported patients have had mild clinical disease, without resting hypoxemia. This patient is unusual because of the severity of her symptoms and hypoxemia, despite normal expiratory airflow. This patient demonstrates that although emphysema and airflow limitation commonly occur together, they are actually separate disease processes.

Figure Jump LinkFigure 2. Representative HRCT slice of lung. Note the diffuse centrilobular emphysema.Grahic Jump Location

References

Gelb, A, Hogg, J, Muller, N, et al (1996) Contribution of emphysema and small airways in COPD.Chest109,353-359. [PubMed] [CrossRef]
 
Nagai, A, Yamawaki, I, Takizawa, T, et al Alveolar attachments in emphysema of human lungs.Am Rev Respir Dis1991;144,888-891. [PubMed]
 
Pride, N, Ingram, R, Lim, T Interaction between parenchyma and airways in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in asthma.Am Rev Respir Dis1991;143,1446-1449. [PubMed]
 
Klein, J, Gamsu, G, Webb, W, et al High-resolution CT diagnosis of emphysema in symptomatic patients with normal chest radiographs and isolated low diffusing capacity.Radiology1992;182,817-821. [PubMed]
 
Gould, G, Redpath, M, Ryan, M, et al Lung CT density correlates with measurements of airflow limitation and the diffusing capacity.Eur Respir J1991;4,141-146. [PubMed]
 

Figures

Figure Jump LinkFigure 2. Representative HRCT slice of lung. Note the diffuse centrilobular emphysema.Grahic Jump Location

Tables

References

Gelb, A, Hogg, J, Muller, N, et al (1996) Contribution of emphysema and small airways in COPD.Chest109,353-359. [PubMed] [CrossRef]
 
Nagai, A, Yamawaki, I, Takizawa, T, et al Alveolar attachments in emphysema of human lungs.Am Rev Respir Dis1991;144,888-891. [PubMed]
 
Pride, N, Ingram, R, Lim, T Interaction between parenchyma and airways in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in asthma.Am Rev Respir Dis1991;143,1446-1449. [PubMed]
 
Klein, J, Gamsu, G, Webb, W, et al High-resolution CT diagnosis of emphysema in symptomatic patients with normal chest radiographs and isolated low diffusing capacity.Radiology1992;182,817-821. [PubMed]
 
Gould, G, Redpath, M, Ryan, M, et al Lung CT density correlates with measurements of airflow limitation and the diffusing capacity.Eur Respir J1991;4,141-146. [PubMed]
 
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