Acute exacerbation (acute lung injury of unknown cause) in UIP and other forms of fibrotic interstitial pneumonias

Am J Surg Pathol. 2007 Feb;31(2):277-84. doi: 10.1097/01.pas.0000213341.70852.9d.


Acute exacerbation of usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP) is a condition in which patients with UIP, and occasionally other forms of fibrotic interstitial lung disease, develop rapid respiratory failure, accompanied by extensive radiologic infiltrates. The pathologic features of this condition are ill-defined in the literature and the outcome is unclear. We report 12 such patients, 9 with underlying UIP, 2 with underlying fibrotic nonspecific interstitial pneumonia, and 1 with underlying chronic hypersensitivity pneumonitis, who underwent surgical lung biopsy for diagnosis. High-resolution computed tomography data were available in 11 cases and showed the presence of extensive bilateral ground-glass opacities, sometimes accompanied by focal consolidation, superimposed on underlying fibrosis. Three microscopic patterns of acute lung injury were seen: diffuse alveolar damage (DAD), organizing pneumonia (OP), and a pattern of numerous very large fibroblast foci superimposed on underlying fibrosis. After the biopsy, all patients were treated with steroids, in some instances accompanied by cyclophosphamide or azathioprine. Ten patients survived the acute episode and were discharged with survival times of 1 to 11 months; of these cases, 6 showed a pattern of OP or OP plus extensive fibroblast foci; 2 a pattern of extensive fibroblast foci only; and 2 a pattern of DAD. Both patients who died had histologic DAD. We conclude that acute exacerbation of UIP and other fibrotic lung diseases produces a variety of pathologic patterns on biopsy, and that patients with OP or extensive fibroblast foci as the acute pattern seem to do better than those with DAD. Our data also imply that survival (of the acute episode) may be better than the literature suggests.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alveolitis, Extrinsic Allergic / complications
  • Alveolitis, Extrinsic Allergic / drug therapy
  • Alveolitis, Extrinsic Allergic / pathology*
  • Azathioprine / therapeutic use
  • Biopsy
  • Cyclophosphamide / therapeutic use
  • Disease Progression
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Alveoli / pathology
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / complications
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / drug therapy
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology*
  • Radiography, Thoracic
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / complications
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Distress Syndrome / pathology*
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / drug therapy
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / etiology
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / pathology*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Azathioprine