Pulmonary function tests (PFT), particularly spirometry and lung diffusing capacity for carbon monoxide (DLCO), have been considered useful methods for the detection of the progression of interstitial asbestos abnormalities as indicated by high-resolution computed tomography (HRCT). However, it is currently unknown which of these two tests correlates best with anatomical changes over time.
In this study, we contrasted longitudinal changes (3–9 years follow-up) in PFTs at rest and during exercise with interstitial abnormalities evaluated by HRCT in 63 ex-workers with mild-to-moderate asbestosis.
At baseline, patients presented with low-grade asbestosis (Huuskonen classes I–II), and most PFT results were within the limits of normality. In the follow-up, most subjects had normal spirometry, static lung volumes and arterial blood gases. In contrast, frequency of DLCO abnormalities almost doubled (P < 0.05). Twenty-three (36.5%) subjects increased the interstitial marks on HRCT. These had significantly larger declines in DLCO compared to patients who remained stable (0.88 vs. 0.31 ml/min/mm Hg/year and 3.5 vs. 1.2%/year, respectively; P < 0.05). In contrast, no between-group differences were found for the other functional tests, including spirometry (P > 0.05).
These data demonstrate that the functional consequences of progression of HRCT abnormalities in mild-to-moderate asbestosis are better reflected by decrements in DLCO than by spirometric changes. These results might have important practical implications for medico-legal evaluation of this patient population. Am. J. Ind. Med. 54:185–193, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.