Idiopathic non-specific interstitial pneumonia

Respirology. 2016 Feb;21(2):259-68. doi: 10.1111/resp.12674. Epub 2015 Nov 13.


Non-specific interstitial pneumonia (NSIP) is an interstitial lung disease that may be idiopathic or secondary to connective tissue disease, toxins or numerous other causes. Idiopathic NSIP is a rare diagnosis and requires exclusion of these other possible causes. Patients typically present in mid-adulthood with dyspnoea, cough and often constitutional symptoms including fever and fatigue. The disease has a female predominance, and more than 50% of patients have never smoked. Physical exam features mild hypoxaemia and inspiratory rales. Pulmonary function tests demonstrate restriction and a low diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide. High-resolution computed tomography abnormalities include predominantly lower lobe subpleural reticular changes, traction bronchiectasis and ground-glass opacities; honeycombing is rarely seen. An evaluation of the underlying pathology is necessary for a firm diagnosis. Histologically, alveolar and interstitial mononuclear cell inflammation and fibrosis are seen in a temporally uniform pattern with preserved underlying alveolar architecture. NSIP must be differentiated from other parenchymal lung diseases including idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and hypersensitivity pneumonitis. A thorough exposure history and assessment for underlying connective tissue diseases are highly important, as positive findings in these categories would likely denote a case of secondary NSIP. A multi-disciplinary discussion that includes pulmonologist(s), radiologist(s) and pathologist(s) assists in reaching a consensus diagnosis and improves diagnostic accuracy. Treatment of idiopathic NSIP, although not well proven, is generally instituted in the form of immunosuppression. Prognosis is favourable compared with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, although the diagnosis still carries an attributable mortality. Herein we will summarize the clinical characteristics and management of idiopathic NSIP.

Keywords: connective tissue disease; idiopathic interstitial pneumonia; interstitial lung disease; non-specific interstitial pneumonia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alveolitis, Extrinsic Allergic / diagnosis*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Disease Management
  • Humans
  • Idiopathic Interstitial Pneumonias* / diagnosis
  • Idiopathic Interstitial Pneumonias* / physiopathology
  • Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis / diagnosis
  • Inflammation / pathology
  • Lung* / pathology
  • Lung* / physiopathology
  • Prognosis
  • Symptom Assessment / methods
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed