Sixty seven patients with biopsy proven pulmonary sarcoidosis were prospectively studied to determine whether single point bronchoalveolar lavage cell counts were a useful indicator of functional outcome and whether repeated lavage helped in management. The mean follow up period was 25 (range 13-37) months. No patient was having corticosteroid treatment at the time of initial bronchoalveolar lavage. "High intensity alveolitis" (lymphocyte count greater than or equal to 28%) was present at the initial lavage in 42 patients. These patients showed a significant improvement in their pulmonary function and chest radiographs over the follow up period whereas patients with "low intensity alveolitis" did not. Of the 42 patients with high intensity alveolitis, 31 had chronic sarcoidosis (duration over two years, mean 80 months). These patients showed a significant improvement in FVC but not in TLCO. Corticosteroids resulted in greater functional and radiological improvement in the patients with high intensity alveolitis than in those with low intensity alveolitis. Repeat bronchoalveolar lavage in 34 patients, mean 8.4 months after the original lavage, showed a weak inverse relation between a reduced lymphocyte count and change in forced vital capacity and isotope uptake on a gallium scan. These correlations were too weak to make repeated cell counts useful in management. Our results suggest that high intensity alveolitis may be a favourable prognostic factor for lung function in pulmonary sarcoidosis, even in patients with chronic disease, but that repeat lavage adds little to the management of the individual patient.
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