Aim of the study: The diffusion capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (DL(CO)) is an important tool in the diagnosis and follow-up of patients with pulmonary diseases. In case of a decreased DL(CO) the K(CO), defined as DL(CO)/V(A) (V(A) is alveolar volume), can differentiate between normal alveolocapillary membrane (normal K(CO)) and abnormal alveolocapillary membrane (low K(CO)). The latter category consists of decreased surface of the membrane, increased thickness or decreased perfusion of ventilated alveoli. The V(A)/TLC (TLC is total lung capacity determined by whole body plethysmography) can partially differentiate between these categories. The aim of this study was to investigate the diagnostic value of the specific diffusion disturbances, which can be constructed by combining the DL(CO), K(CO) and V(A)/TLC.
Methods: In 460 patients the diagnosis made by clinicians were fitted into five diagnostic categories: asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), treatment effects of haematologic malignancies, heart failure and diffuse parenchymal lung diseases (DPLD). These categories were linked to the pattern of diffusion disturbance.
Results: Almost all patients with asthma have a normal DL(CO), most patients in the other groups do not have the expected pattern of diffusion disturbance, especially in the group with DPLD a bad match is observed.
Conclusion: In this study the pattern of diffusion disturbance is of limited use in establishing a diagnosis. The use of the K(CO) next to the DL(CO) has no additional diagnostic value. Regional ventilation-perfusion inequality probably forms an important underlying mechanism of decreased DL(CO).