Objectives: Structural and functional changes in pulmonary vessels are prevalent at the initial stages of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These vascular alterations can be assessed using crosssectional area (CSA) of small pulmonary vessels. However, neither in non-COPD smokers nor in COPD patients it has been defined whether the structural changes of pulmonary vessels detected by paired inspiratory and expiratory CT scans are associated with emphysematous changes. We quantified the CSA and low attenuation area (LAA) and evaluated the changes in these parameters in the inspiratory and expiratory phases. Materials and methods: Fifty consecutive non-COPD smokers and COPD patients were subjected to multi detector-row CT and the percentage of vessels with a CSA less than 5 mm2 as well as the percentage LAA for total lung area (%CSA < 5, %LAA, respectively) were calculated. Results: The %CSA < 5 correlated negatively with %LAA. The %CSA < 5 was lower in COPD patients with emphysema as compared with non-COPD smokers and COPD patients with or without mild emphysema. In addition, the %CSA < 5 was lower in the no/mild emphysema subgroup as compared with non-COPD smokers. The respiratory phase change of %CSA < 5 in COPD patients was greater than that in non-COPD smokers. Conclusion: The percentage of small pulmonary vessels decreased as emphysematous changes increase, and this decrease was observed even in patients with no/mild emphysema. Furthermore, respiratory phase changes in CSA were higher in COPD patients than in non-COPD smokers.
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