Predictive value of BAL cell differentials in the diagnosis of interstitial lung diseases

Eur Respir J. 2004 Dec;24(6):1000-6. doi: 10.1183/09031936.04.00101303.


The current authors aimed to quantify how the likelihood for a given diagnosis changes with the knowledge of bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) cell differentials. As an initial estimate (a priori probability), frequencies of final diagnoses were taken. Using categorisations for cell differentials, a posteriori probabilities were then derived for each disease, according to Bayes. The analysis was performed in three of five groups of diagnoses suspected prior to BAL: interstitial lung disease (ILD; n=710), inflammatory disease (n=583), or lung tumour mimicking ILD (n=455). Overall, out of 1,971 patients, 18.3% had sarcoidosis, 7.7% usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP), 4.4% extrinsic allergic alveolitis (EAA), and 19.0% tumours. In the group with suspected ILD, the likelihood for sarcoidosis increased from 33.7 to 68.1% when lymphocyte numbers were 30-50% and granulocyte numbers were low; the likelihood for UIP increased from 15.8 to 33.3% when lymphocyte numbers were <30% with granulocytes elevated. CD4/CD8 was informative, especially in sarcoidosis and EAA. Despite considerable increases, the likelihood of rare diseases rarely reached appreciable values. Similar results were obtained in the other two groups of suspected diagnoses. In conclusion, these data suggest that bronchoalveolar lavage cell counts per se provide substantial diagnostic information only in relatively frequent diseases, such as sarcoidosis and usual interstitial pneumonia, and are less helpful in infrequent diseases.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid / cytology*
  • Cell Count
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / diagnosis*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Statistics, Nonparametric