Differentiating lung abscess and empyema: radiography and computed tomography

AJR Am J Roentgenol. 1983 Jul;141(1):163-7. doi: 10.2214/ajr.141.1.163.


Conventional chest radiographs and computed tomographic (CT) scans of 70 inflammatory thoracic lesions in 63 patients were reviewed and scored for diagnostic features. Pathologic confirmation of the final diagnosis was available in 42% (5/12) of lung abscesses and 31% (18/58) of empyemas. CT alone was sufficient to correctly diagnose 100% (70/70) of cases. Diagnostic information not available from conventional chest radiographs was obtained in 47% (33/70) of cases; in an additional 34% of patients, CT more accurately defined the extent of disease. The most reliable CT features for the differential diagnosis of lung abscess and empyema were wall characteristics, pleural separation, and lung compression. Conventional radiographic features such as size, shape, and the angle of the lesion with the chest wall were less helpful, though also best assessed by CT.

MeSH terms

  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Empyema / diagnostic imaging*
  • Empyema / pathology
  • Humans
  • Lung / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung / pathology
  • Lung Abscess / diagnostic imaging*
  • Lung Abscess / pathology
  • Pleura / diagnostic imaging
  • Pleura / pathology
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed*