Early Chest Computed Tomography Scan to Assist Diagnosis and Guide Treatment Decision for Suspected Community-acquired Pneumonia

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2015 Oct 15;192(8):974-82. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201501-0017OC.


Rationale: Clinical decision making relative to community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) diagnosis is difficult. Chest radiograph is key in establishing parenchymal lung involvement. However, radiologic performance may lead to misdiagnosis, rendering questionable the use of chest computed tomography (CT) scan in patients with clinically suspected CAP.

Objectives: To assess whether early multidetector chest CT scan affects diagnosis and management of patients visiting the emergency department with suspected CAP.

Methods: A total of 319 prospectively enrolled patients with clinically suspected CAP underwent multidetector chest CT scan within 4 hours. CAP diagnosis probability (definite, probable, possible, or excluded) and therapeutic plans (antibiotic initiation/discontinuation, hospitalization/discharge) were established by emergency physicians before and after CT scan results. The adjudication committee established the final CAP classification on Day 28.

Measurements and main results: Chest radiograph revealed a parenchymal infiltrate in 188 patients. CAP was initially classified as definite in 143 patients (44.8%), probable or possible in 172 (53.8%), and excluded in 4 (1.2%). CT scan revealed a parenchymal infiltrate in 40 (33%) of the patients without infiltrate on chest radiograph and excluded CAP in 56 (29.8%) of the 188 with parenchymal infiltrate on radiograph. CT scan modified classification in 187 (58.6%; 95% confidence interval, 53.2-64.0), leading to 50.8% definite CAP and 28.8% excluded CAP, and 80% of modifications were in accordance with adjudication committee classification. Because of CT scan, antibiotics were initiated in 51 (16%) and discontinued in 29 (9%), and hospitalization was decided in 22 and discharge in 23.

Conclusions: In CAP-suspected patients visiting the emergency unit, early CT scan findings complementary to chest radiograph markedly affect both diagnosis and clinical management. Clinical trial registered with www.clinicaltrials.gov (NCT 01574066).

Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT01574066.

Keywords: chest radiograph; community-acquired pneumonia; diagnosis; emergency medicine; multidetector CT scan.

Publication types

  • Clinical Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Ambulatory Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Anti-Bacterial Agents / therapeutic use
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Cohort Studies
  • Community-Acquired Infections / diagnosis
  • Community-Acquired Infections / diagnostic imaging*
  • Community-Acquired Infections / drug therapy
  • Disease Management
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Emergency Service, Hospital*
  • Female
  • Hospitalization / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multidetector Computed Tomography*
  • Pneumonia / diagnosis
  • Pneumonia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Pneumonia / drug therapy
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiography, Thoracic


  • Anti-Bacterial Agents

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01574066