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Thorax. 1999 November; 54(11): 1009–1014.
PMCID: PMC1745385

Clinical significance of respiratory bronchiolitis on open lung biopsy and its relationship to smoking related interstitial lung disease

Abstract

BACKGROUND—Respiratory bronchiolitis-associated interstitial lung disease (RBILD) is a rare form of interstitial lung disease which may present in similar fashion to other types of chronic interstitial pneumonia. The purpose of this study was to undertake a clinicopathological review of 10 patients with RBILD and to examine the clinical and imaging data related to its histopathological pattern, in particular the relationship of RBILD to smoking.
METHODS—Thirteen out of 168 retrospectively reviewed patients, from whom biopsy specimens were taken for suspected diffuse lung disease, were identified with a histopathological pattern of RBILD. Three cases were rejected as follow up data were unavailable. The 10remaining cases constituted the study group and both clinical and imaging data were collected from patients' notes and referring physicians.
RESULTS—Histopathologically, four cases of RBILD overlapped with the pattern of desquamative interstitial pneumonitis (DIP) and nine also had microscopic evidence of centrilobular emphysema. Nine patients were smokers, ranging from 3 to 80 pack years. The one non-smoker had an occupational exposure to the fumes of solder flux. The sex distribution was equal with an age range of 32-65 years. Two patients were clubbed. Lung function tests showed both restrictive and obstructive patterns together with severe reductions in carbon monoxide transfer factor in seven patients. Chest radiographs showed reticular or reticulonodular infiltrates in five patients and a ground glass pattern in two. CT scans were consistent with either DIP or RBILD in six of eight patients. Although seven patients remained stable or improved, either with or without treatment, three patients deteriorated.
CONCLUSIONS—This study adds weight to the hypothesis that smoking can cause clinically significant interstitial lung disease, with deterioration in pulmonary function despite treatment. Given the overlapping histopathological patterns of RBILD and DIP and their strong association with smoking, the term "smoking related interstitial lung disease" is suggested for those patients who are smokers.


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