Rationale and objectives: The authors assessed the progression of pulmonary emphysema by means of quantitative analysis of computed tomography images.
Methods: Twenty-three patients suffering from emphysema due to an alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency, aged 45 +/- 7 years and exsmokers, were scanned twice with a 1-year time interval. At 90% of the vital lung capacity, slices with a thickness of 1.5 mm were acquired at the level of the carina and 5 cm above the carina; slices with a thickness of 1 cm were acquired 5 cm below the carina. The entire lung was scanned spirally at a respiratory status, corresponding with 75% of the total lung capacity at baseline. The mean lung densities (MLD) were calculated in an objective manner with new analytic software featuring automated detection of the lung contours.
Results: Mean lung densities decreased by 14.2 +/- 12.0 Hounsfield units (HU; P < 0.001) above the carina, by 18.1 +/- 14.4 HU (P < 0.001) at the carina level, by 23.6 +/- 15.0 HU (P < 0.001) below the carina, and by 12.8 +/- 22.2 HU (P < 0.01) for the entire lung. The decrease in MLD was most obvious in the lower lung lobes. For the same patient group, the annual decrease in the forced expiratory volume (FEV1) and the carbon monoxide-diffusion were 120 +/- 190 mL (P < 0.01) and 10 +/- 70 mmol/kg/minute ( P < 0.2), respectively. No significant correlation was found between the decrease in MLD and the decrease in FEV1.
Conclusions: Progression of emphysema can be assessed in an objective manner based on the mean lung density (MLD), measured from computed tomography volume scans as well as from single-slice scans. Mean lung density has proved to be more sensitive than FEV1 and carbon monoxide-diffusion.