Role of surgical lung biopsy in separating chronic hypersensitivity pneumonia from usual interstitial pneumonia/idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis: analysis of 31 biopsies from 15 patients

Chest. 2008 Jul;134(1):126-32. doi: 10.1378/chest.08-0033. Epub 2008 Mar 13.


Background: Lung biopsy has been proposed as a criterion for diagnosis of chronic hypersensitivity pneumonia (HP), especially in patients without proven antigen exposure. Histologic findings in some suspected HP patients overlap with usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP) and nonspecific interstitial pneumonia (NSIP). We reviewed our experience to determine the specificity of histologic findings in surgical lung biopsies from patients with clinical diagnoses of HP.

Methods: Surgical lung biopsies from patients with chronic HP, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, and idiopathic NSIP were reviewed retrospectively without knowledge of the clinical diagnosis. Each specimen was assigned a histologic diagnosis, and selected histologic findings were tabulated. Clinical data were abstracted from medical records.

Results: Fifteen patients with clinical diagnoses of chronic HP underwent biopsy of one to three lobes. Ten showed features diagnostic of HP in all specimens. Two had discordant findings that included HP in one specimen and UIP or nonspecific changes in others. Biopsies from two showed only UIP, and one showed NSIP. Diagnostic features were present in all samples from 9 of the 11 patients with more than one biopsy site (81.8%). Three patients died of disease, including both patients from whom biopsies showed only UIP.

Conclusions: Most patients with a clinical diagnosis of chronic HP have supportive histologic findings in surgical lung biopsies. A subset of HP patients has findings indistinguishable from UIP. Sampling from more than one lobe may be helpful in separating HP from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Biopsy
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lung / pathology*
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / diagnosis*
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prognosis
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / diagnosis*
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / pathology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity