Detection of non-infectious conditions mimicking pneumonia in the intensive care setting: usefulness of bronchoalveolar fluid cytology.

J.A. Jacobs*, E.I.G.B. De Brauwer, G. Ramsay, N.A.M. Cobben, S.S. Wagenaar, A. van der Ven, C.A.M.V.A. Bruggeman, M. Drent

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Department of Medical Microbiology, University Hospital Maastricht, The Netherlands.

The present study investigated the usefulness of bronchoalveolar (BAL) fluid cytology in the identification of non-infectious pulmonary conditions in patients hospitalized in the intensive care unit (ICU) and suspected of pneumonia. A total of 182 BAL fluid samples obtained during a 27-month period from 130 ICU patients with suspected pneumonia were quantitatively cultured and investigated for opportunistic pathogens. Cytocentrifuged preparations stained with the May-Grunwald Giemsa and Perls's methods were reviewed. A non-infectious aetiology was considered when cultures yielded micro-organisms in quantities < 10(3) colony-forming units (CFU) per ml, in the absence of any other pathogen and in conjunction with one or more of the following cytological findings: > 20% haemosiderin macrophages, > 10% lymphocytes, the presence of activated lymphocytes, plasma cells, > 5% eosinophils, a preponderance of foamy macrophages, reactive type II pneumocytes or malignant cells. Patients' clinical records were reviewed to identify a clinical diagnosis for these episodes. In thirty-five (19.2%) BAL fluid samples from 26 patients, the cytological findings pointed to a non-infectious origin. An alternative diagnosis was ascertained in 20 of 26 patients. Diagnoses included: drug-induced pneumonitis (n = 7), aspiration of gastric contents (n = 2), pulmonary emboli (n = 3), adult respiratory distress syndrome (n = 4), lung contusion (n = 1), cardiogenic pulmonary oedema (n = 1), and carcinomatous lymphangitis (n = 2). The BAL fluid cytological findings were readily discernable and proved to be useful in the diagnostic work-up of samples obtained from ICU patients with suspected pneumonia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)571-578
Number of pages8
JournalRespiratory Medicine
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1999

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