How Are CT Scans Used in Detecting COPD?

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CT scans detect COPD To diagnose an individual with COPD, a potential patient must undergo a simple breathing test called spirometry. However, in some cases, one’s healthcare provider will perform medical imaging, a form of testing that result in a visual depiction of the patient’s lungs. In such cases, an imaging test, such as chest x-ray, CT scan, or an ECG may be used to identify other potential causes of COPD symptoms and confirm one’s diagnosis.

Computerized tomography scan, or CT scan, is a form of imaging that takes detailed pictures of the lungs. Though similar in function to an X-ray, a CT scan can take a number of smaller pictures whereas an X-ray can only take larger photos. Consequently, the CT scan is the most sensitive and accurate option in detecting and measuring emphysema. A CT scan can pick up characteristics that a normal X-ray can miss like specific damage to the lungs directly caused by emphysema, small lung nodules, or even small lung cancers. Additionally, a high resolution CT scan is also excellent at detecting and determining the severity of bronchiectasis. another lung disease that falls under the scope of COPD. In bronchiectasis, the lung’s bronchial tubes are damaged and expanded. Thickening of the bronchial walls can also be seen with the CT scan. This helps determine how much chronic bronchitis is present in the lungs.

The COPD Foundation has been made aware of a study at the National Institutes of Health that is designed to determine whether low does CT scans can be as effective as standard CT scans. If you are an individual currently diagnosed with COPD and interested in learning more, please call 1-877-NIH-LUNG, and press option #3. Information related to travel reimbursement can be obtained from the study coordinators.

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  • My Pulmonologist used CT scans to monitor my COPD yearly. PFT tests were also done yearly. He teaches at a University Hospital. He stopped doing this about five years ago when my insurance company started the policy of requiring special approval for CT, and MRI scans. They couldn't spend hours filling out paperwork. At times a small mistake would warrant them having to back to redo it. I wondered if this was a tactic for the company to save money, and this was actually a very expensive policy.

    It would be interesting to know how many COPD patients are allowed to have CT scans done.
    Reply
    • Keep in mind different doctors do things differently, but In the pulmonology practice I work with CT scans are not used to track COPD; instead spirometry and PFTs are used. CT scans are used to track lung cancer risk and known pulmonary nodules, and also interstitial diseases like pulmonary fibrosis. If the diagnosis given as a reason for ordering the CT scan was COPD, maybe that is why insurance turned it down. If your MD was actually using the CT to track something else (like a pulmonary nodule), then that should be used as the diagnosis for the test.

      It is time consuming and a real pain in the neck, but a large part of what the office staff at every doctors office does is work with insurance companies on these very issues. Sometimes the insurance denials defy logic. Is it a tactic to save money? If so, it might save them money, but it may cost you in the long run, and the doctors office has to pay staff a lot of money to sit on the phone with insurance companies for hours every day.
      Reply
    • I have ct scans done annually but it is not related to my COPD, it is because I have nodules and a history of smoking that unfortunately qualifies me. The scans are for lung cancer screening, not my emphysema. The PFT provides a measurement of obstruction, air trapping, and your diffusion, the things your pulmonologist really needs. My pulmonologist looks at the scans but in terms of my COPD she puts more emphasis on the PFTs and our conversation; how I am feeling and how my exercise is going.
      Reply
    • We were told that a Low level CT scan done once a year was a good idea just to see what was happening. That the cost was $99. That's not to bad.

      Reply

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