New Tool Identifies Smokers at Risk of Emphysema

8 April 2010 (Last Updated April 8th, 2010 18:30)

CT scans that measure blood flow in the lungs of smokers can also identify the risk of emphysema before the disease damages and eventually destroys areas of the lungs, a new study has found. According to University of Iowa researchers, smokers who have subtle signs of emphysema, but st

CT scans that measure blood flow in the lungs of smokers can also identify the risk of emphysema before the disease damages and eventually destroys areas of the lungs, a new study has found.

According to University of Iowa researchers, smokers who have subtle signs of emphysema, but still have normal lung function, have different blood flow patterns in their lungs compared to non-smokers and smokers without signs of emphysema.

Based on this difference, a new tool can detect early emphysema-related changes that occur in smokers thus allowing for early intervention, according to the study published in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

This type of CT scan can also be a tool to test the effectiveness of new therapies by looking at the changes in lung blood flow, the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, said.

The study was conducted on 41 study participants, of which17 non-smokers and 24 smokers using multi-detector row CT imaging to measure blood flow patterns in the lungs and found that 12 of the smokers had very subtle signs of emphysema.

UI professor of radiology Eric Hoffman said the underlying causes of emphysema are not well understood, however, it is known that smoking increases the risk of developing the disease.

"The study also suggests that some smokers have an abnormal response to inflammation in their lungs; instead of sending more blood to the inflamed areas to help repair the damage, blood flow is turned off and the inflamed areas deteriorate," Hoffman said.