Diagnosing fibrotic lung disease: when is high-resolution computed tomography sufficient to make a diagnosis of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis?

Respirology. 2009 Sep;14(7):934-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1440-1843.2009.01626.x.


Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a progressive and fatal diffuse parenchymal lung disease, is defined pathologically by the pattern of usual interstitial pneumonia (UIP). Unfortunately, a surgical lung biopsy cannot be performed in all patients due to comorbidities that may significantly increase the morbidity and mortality of the procedure. High-resolution computed tomography (HRCT) has been put forth as a surrogate to recognize pathological UIP. The quality of the HRCT impacts the ability to make a diagnosis of UIP and varies based on the centre performing the study and patient factors. The evaluation of the HRCT includes assessing the distribution and predominance of key radiographical findings, such as honeycomb, septal thickening, traction bronchiectasis and ground glass attenuation lesions. The combination of the pattern and distribution is what leads to a diagnosis and associated confidence level. HRCT features of definite UIP (subpleural, basal predominant honeycomb with septal thickening, traction bronchiectasis and ground glass attenuation lesions) have a high specificity for the UIP pathological pattern. In such cases, surgical lung biopsy can be avoided. There are caveats to using the HRCT to diagnose IPF in isolation as a variety of chronic pulmonary interstitial diseases may progress to a UIP pattern. Referral centres with experience in diffuse parenchymal lung disease that have multidisciplinary teams encompassing clinicians, radiologists and pathologists have the highest level of agreement in diagnosing IPF.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Humans
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / diagnostic imaging*
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / pathology
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / diagnostic imaging
  • Lung Diseases, Interstitial / pathology
  • Observer Variation
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods*