Objective: To describe a possible association between prolonged infection with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and a pathophysiologic process suggestive of pulmonary emphysema.
Design: Case series.
Setting: The Ohio State University Hospital, Columbus, Ohio.
Measurements and main results: We describe four HIV-seropositive individuals ranging in age from 32 to 55 years who presented with dyspnea. Radiographic examination of the chest showed no infiltrates. All patients were presumed to have had prolonged HIV infection (mean CD4 count, 99.8 +/- 43 cells/mm3), but none had a previous history of pneumonia or opportunistic infections. Comprehensive examination of bronchoalveolar lavage fluid showed no pathogens or other complications of HIV infection. All patients had markedly abnormal pulmonary function tests that were suggestive of emphysema with air-trapping, hyperinflation, and a markedly decreased diffusing capacity. However, only minimal evidence of airflow obstruction was noted. Three patients subsequently had high-resolution computed tomographic scans of the chest that revealed emphysema-like bullous changes. Known causes of emphysema were not present in these patients.
Conclusions: Our findings support an association between prolonged HIV infection and an emphysema-like process. This syndrome may occur in the absence of previous pulmonary infections or apparent pulmonary complications and is characterized by unusual pulmonary function test abnormalities.