Asbestos related changes in the single breath carbon monoxide diffusing capacity (DLCO) were longitudinally analysed in 14 subjects exposed predominantly to chrysotile asbestos in an asbestos cement factory. These subjects were examined annually over the past nine years; their lung function was initially characterised with increased DLCO as the sole functional abnormality and they had normal chest radiographs. The radiological examination included a chest x ray film and, in the past two years, high resolution computed tomography (HRCT). A biphasic DLCO change was found: an initial increase followed by a relative decrease. The increase in DLCO was mainly caused by an increase in the membrane component (Dm). Indomethacin treatment applied after the sixth annual follow up significantly reduced DLCO and Dm. The decrease in DLCO correlated well with the parenchymal abnormalities found on HRCT, whereas the chest x ray film profusion score for small opacities (ILO classification) was unchanged. In conclusion, the data suggested that, as well as the absolute values of pulmonary function tests, the measurement of progression of functional parameters is essential in the assessment of pleural and parenchymal disease of the lung related to exposure to asbestos. High resolution computed tomography is suggested as the radiological method of choice in subjects with an isolated decrease in DLCO. Exposure to asbestos can be associated not only with a reduction in DLCO, but also with a temporary increase in DLCO caused by a subclinical inflammatory reaction.
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