WEDNESDAY, March 9 (HealthDay News) -- A sizable minority of
smokers and former-smokers develop lung conditions that reduce lung
capacity, but leave them less likely to have either emphysema or
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), new research
In fact, the study published in the March 10 issue of the
New England Journal of Medicine found that these rarer
abnormalities are only visible on sophisticated CT scans, not on
the ones typically used to spot COPD and emphysema. The findings
suggest that doctors need to look beyond those measurements, which
could be giving false reassurance to patients.
"Tobacco usage can cause more problems to the lung than just emphysema or COPD," said Dr. Carl Boethel, an assistant professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine, who was not involved with the study. "Sometimes the method we use to diagnose COPD and emphysema, which is spirometry, may not give you the full picture of what is going on in the lungs."
Even though CT scans shouldn't become a routine screening method
for smokers and ex-smokers, the authors of the paper are hoping
that these findings will spur more research into ways to identify
people at risk.
"Our hope is that down the road, we need not perform CT scans on every person but we could identify other noninvasive tests or biomarkers that may predict who has this disease, who is at risk and who will progress with the disease," said study first author Dr. George Washko, a physician in the division of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.
The abnormalities found on the scans in this study indicated
interstitial lung disease, the most severe form of which is
idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. "This is rapidly fatal and there is
no available treatment," said the study's other first author, Dr.
Gary M. Hunninghake, also a pulmonary/critical care physician at
Brigham and Women's.
Using high-resolution CT scans, the investigators found
interstitial lung abnormalities -- basically areas of increased
lung density -- in 8 percent of almost 2,500 scans.
People with these abnormalities had lower lung capacity but less
emphysema and were also 47 percent less likely to have COPD.
"It is a little bit more common than people would expect," said Hunninghake.
It also suggests that two different physiological patterns are
happening in the lungs, he said, "one that led towards emphysema
and one toward interstitial lung disease."
"Tobacco smoking can cause more than COPD as far as lungs go," Boethel added. "We really need to get our patients off of these cigarettes."
"There's a terrible, inconvenient truth here about smoking: It's bad," said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
American Lung Association has more on how to stop smoking.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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