What is the role of a spiral CT scan in the workup of relapsing polychondritis (RP)?

Updated: Dec 06, 2018
  • Author: Nicholas Compton, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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Spiral CT scanning (without contrast), from the superior trachea to the lower lobe bronchi, is advised in patients with relapsing polychondritis and respiratory symptoms.

Spiral CT scanning is a noninvasive test that readily identifies tracheal and bronchial thickening, stenosis, and calcification. Smooth anterior and lateral wall thickening with sparing of the posterior wall of the trachea and mainstem bronchi is virtually pathognomonic for relapsing polychondritis.

High-resolution CT scanning can reveal air trapping and diffuse or focal thickening of the airways. Expiratory CT scanning can be used to evaluate for air trapping and malacia of the airways. A series of 18 patients with relapsing polychondritis and pulmonary symptoms revealed that 94% had airway malacia and air trapping on dynamic expiratory CT scans. [46] The authors suggest that this modality should be used in all patients with relapsing polychondritis to allow for early detection of airway compromise. However, they did not provide the duration of disease in the study population, nor did they correlate the findings with those of pulmonary function tests. The benefit of dynamic expiratory CT scanning is unproven but may provide more information in difficult cases.

CT scanning results correlate well with pulmonary function tests, identifying obstructive patterns. CT scanning is not only safer but is also more sensitive and specific than bronchoscopy.

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