Many knowledge gaps in the nature of early chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) still exist, mainly because COPD has always been considered a disease of the elderly. Little attention has been paid to the pathologic changes in the lungs of young adults with risk factors for COPD, such as bronchopulmonary dysplasia. One major limitation is the current lack of noninvasive ways to sensitively measure or image functional declines from subjects who are at risk for COPD but haven’t yet developed more significant clinical symptoms of the disease.
We report the use of lung magnetic resonance imaging with hyperpolarized gas in the diagnostic workup for bronchopulmonary dysplasia with underlying chronic airflow limitation in presence of spirometry criteria that meet the diagnosis of early-onset COPD.
In the postsurfactant era, where more young adults will be spirometrically diagnosed with COPD, patients should be classified not only on the basis of their airflow limitation, but also on lung abnormalities identified with safe, comprehensive imaging technologies that allow regular, longitudinal follow-up.