Monitoring of Lung Involvement in Rheumatologic Disease

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The monitoring of lung involvement in patients with connective tissue diseases is central to optimal long-term management and is directed towards: (a) the detection of supervening lung involvement not present at presentation and (b) the identification of disease progression in established lung disease. For both goals, accurate surveillance requires multi-disciplinary evaluation with the integration of symptomatic change, serial pulmonary function trends and imaging data. Evaluated in isolation, each of these monitoring domains has significant limitations. Symptomatic change may be confounded by a wide variety of systemic factors. Pulmonary function tests provide the most reliable data, but are limited by measurement variability, the heterogeneity of functional patterns and the confounding effects of non-pulmonary factors. Chest radiography is insensitive to change but may provide rapid confirmation of major disease progression or alert the clinician to respiratory co-morbidities. Although high-resolution computed tomography has a central role in assessing disease severity, it should be used very selectively as a monitoring tool due to the associated radiation burden. Ancillary tests include echocardiography and exercise testing to proactively identify cases of pulmonary hypertension and worsening of oxygenation. In summary, a multi-disciplinary approach is essential for the identification of disease progression and prompt treatment of comorbidities that severely impact on the morbidity and mortality of disease.

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