OAK BROOK, Ill. (July, 27, 2011) Using computed tomography (CT), researchers have identified two types of structural changes in the lungs of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that are associated with frequent exacerbations, or episodes when symptoms suddenly worsen. Their findings are published online in the journal Radiology.
COPD can damage both the airways and the air sacs of the lungs, and is a leading cause of death and illness worldwide. The two main structural abnormalities seen in COPD are emphysema, in which the air sacs of the lung are gradually destroyed, and airway disease, which causes a narrowing of the bronchial tubes.
"COPD is an extremely common problem that is frustrating to physicians," said the study's lead researcher, MeiLan K. Han, M.D., M.S., assistant professor of medicine at the University of Michigan Health System in Ann Arbor, Mich. "For a long time, we have had a one-size-fits-all approach to treating COPD patients."
COPD is currently staged by measuring lung function with a spirometer, a machine that measures how much air the lungs can hold and how fast air is expelled. A handful of medications are typically prescribed for the condition, regardless of what type of COPD patients have.
"Spirometry is inadequate as the sole parameter for assessing risk of exacerbations," Dr. Han said. "Two COPD patients may be identical in terms of lung function yet behave very differently. For instance, there are subsets of patients with severely reduced lung function who do not experience frequent exacerbations."
According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), an estimated $49.9 billion was spent on COPD in the United States in 2010, the majority of which was related to exacerbations.
Dr. Han analyzed data from the COPDGene Study, an ongoing multi-center NHLBI-sponsored study, designed to identify genetic factors associated with COPD. In the st
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Radiological Society of North America