BACKGROUND: Although chest radiographs usually provide adequate information for the diagnosis of active pulmonary tuberculosis, minimal exudative tuberculosis can be overlooked on standard chest radiographs. The aim of the present study was to assess the findings of active pulmonary tuberculosis on high resolution computed tomographic (HRCT) scans, and to evaluate their possible use in determining disease activity. METHODS: Thirty two patients with newly diagnosed active pulmonary tuberculosis and 34 patients with inactive pulmonary tuberculosis were examined. The diagnosis of active pulmonary tuberculosis was based on positive acid fast bacilli in sputum and bronchial washing smears or cultures and/or changes on serial radiographs obtained during treatment. RESULTS: With HRCT scanning centrilobular lesions (n = 29), "tree-in-bud" appearance (n = 23), and macronodules 5-8 mm in diameter (n = 22) were most commonly seen in cases of active pulmonary tuberculosis. HRCT scans showed fibrotic lesions (n = 34), distortion of bronchovascular structures (n = 32), emphysema (n = 28), and bronchiectasis (n = 24) in patients with inactive tuberculosis. CONCLUSIONS: Centrilobular densities in and around the small airways and "tree-in-bud" appearances were the most characteristic CT features of disease activity. HRCT scanning clearly differentiated old fibrotic lesions from new active lesions and demonstrated early bronchogenic spread. These findings may be of value in decisions on treatment.
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