Lymphocytic interstitial pneumonitis

Last revised by Assoc Prof Craig Hacking on 05 Oct 2022

Lymphocytic interstitial pneumonitis is a benign lymphoproliferative disorder characterized by lymphocyte predominant infiltration of the lungs. It is classified as a subtype of interstitial lung disease. It also falls under the umbrella of non-lymphomatous pulmonary lymphoid disorders.

Lymphocytic interstitial pneumonitis can occur at any age. However, most of the patients are adults with a mean age of 52-56 years. If a child presents with lymphocytic interstitial pneumonitis, this can be indicative of AIDS.

There is a recognized female predilection (by around 2 fold) most likely attributable to the fact that lymphocytic interstitial pneumonitis occurs in patients with autoimmune disease such as Sjögren syndrome, which is by far more common in women 8.

The main clinical symptoms are a gradual onset of dyspnea and cough with approximately six months duration. Less frequently, patients may have systemic symptoms such as fever, night sweat, arthralgia, and weight loss. If the disease progresses to the end-stage respiratory failure cyanosis and clubbing may develop. Hypertrophy of the salivary glands observed in 20% of patients 11

It is considered a benign lymphoproliferative disorder characterized histologically by diffuse interstitial and alveolar infiltration with polyclonal lymphocytes and plasma cells

In about 80% of patients polyclonal or IgM monoclonal gammopathy is found 8.

Features can be non-specific, but may include:

The following features may be seen with lymphocytic interstitial pneumonitis on HRCT, but the findings are not exclusive to its diagnosis:

The natural history is variable, from near-complete resolution to progressive disease. More than 30% of patients will develop the end-stage disease and honeycombing despite treatment. According to some reports 5 year mortality can range between 33-50%.

Transformation to lymphoma can occur, particularly in a patient with monoclonal gammopathy or hypogammaglobulinemia 8. Corticosteroids have been successfully trialled 1.

Approximately 5% of cases may transform to lymphoma 15.

It was originally classified as an idiopathic interstitial pneumonia in 1969 by  Liebow and Carrington,

General imaging differential considerations include:

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: illustration
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  • Case 1: radiograph - background Sjogren syndrome
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  • Case 1: CT - showing thin walled cysts
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  • Case 2: with predominantly ground glass changes
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  • Case 3
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  • Case 4
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  • Case 5: SLE
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  • Case 6: multiple pulmonary cysts
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  • Case 6: radiograph
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  • Case 8: in Sjogren's syndrome
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  • Case 9
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  • Case 10
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