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Abnormal Chest Imaging

Imaging of the Chest usually consists of X rays and computed tomography (CT scans). They are useful in evaluating the anatomy of the lungs and help to determine if anatomical changes contribute to one’s respiratory symptoms. What type of imaging one may need depends on the respiratory symptoms that are being evaluated.

Abnormal Chest X rays and CT scans are common reasons to see a pulmonologist. Many times these abnormalities are labeled as “spots”, “nodules” or “masses”. These abnormalities have many different degrees of severity – some are benign, while some may indicate a life threatening problem.

There are a variety of causes, the most concerning of which is an underlying cancer. Respiratory infections, such as tuberculosis, are frequent causes of “spots” or “nodules” on an X ray. Environmental exposures to dusts or chemicals in one’s home or work may also lead to radiographic abnormalities. In some cases, the underlying cause may never be known. Imaging of the chest is a very useful tool, but it is not sufficient to give a definitive diagnosis as to what is the cause of one’s respiratory problems. The imaging needs to be correlated with each patient’s medical history and symptoms by a lung specialist like myself.

What to do about radiographic abnormalities depends on the medical evaluation more so than the imaging itself. The management may call for biopsies or other invasive procedures in some patients, while for others more conservative measures are warranted. The evaluation has to be tailored for each patient’s individual circumstances.