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Could a High-Tech Test Help Your COPD?
Digital screening may help better identify and treat COPD patients at higher risk for symptom flares, known as exacerbations, according to a new study.
By Jaimie Dalessio Clayton
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WEDNESDAY, Jan. 4, 2012— Researchers from National Jewish Health and the COPDGene research consortium have found that quantitative CT scans, which digitally measure lighter and darker areas of the scan to detect inflammation and tissue damage, can help identify chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients at a heightened risk for exacerbations, or symptom flare-ups, more effectively than spirometry, the standard breathing test commonly used to diagnose and evaluate the condition.
“The findings also help us identify distinct phenotypes among the COPD patient population, who could benefit from individualized, targeted management of their disease,” James D. Crapo, MD, professor of medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colo., said in a release about the study. Dr. Crapo co-authored the paper, which was published in a recent issue of the journal Radiology.
Currently, doctors use a simple spirometry breathing test to diagnose COPD. The results of the test, coupled with the patient’s symptoms, help doctors grade the condition from mild to severe, and they usually repeat the test annually to track it.
The study found a correlation between symptom exacerbations and level of tissue destruction (emphysema) and thickness of the airway walls. The worse the emphysema and airway wall inflammation, the more likely the patient is to have a COPD exacerbation. Quantitative CT technology of allows doctors to measure those signs. Spirometry tests can’t, because they only measure airflow obstruction, according to a National Jewish Health release about the research.
COPD exacerbations can deplete lung function and may require hospitalization, so recognizing symptoms (colored or thicker-than-normal phlegm, fever, chest pain) early is critical. Identifying at-risk patients as soon as possible is a step toward even better treatment. Doctors can make sure those particular patients have flare-up medications on-hand at home and emphasize the importance of an exacerbation action plan so that they (and their caregivers) know what to do when it happens.
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