Interstitial Lung Disease: Tests and Diagnosis

What tests are used to diagnose interstitial lung disease?

Because there are so many types of chILD, many tests may be used to assist with a diagnosis, including chest x-rays, CT scans, swallow studies, blood tests, gene tests, bronchoscopies and pulmonary function tests

In order to definitively diagnose a specific from of chILD, doctors usually need to perform a lung biopsy. A lung biopsy is a surgical procedure performed under anesthesia to minimize discomfort. During the procedure, doctors remove a tiny piece of lung tissue and study it under a microscope. 

As leaders in the chILD Clinical Research Cooperative, our doctors at Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Breathing Institute are actively working to develop other tools to replace the lung biopsy. We are making good progress, but in most cases a lung biopsy may still be needed.

How do providers at Children’s Hospital Colorado make a diagnosis?

To diagnose chILD, doctors will consider the child’s symptoms, physical exam, past medical and family histories and the results from tests. Doctors will also rule out other potential causes, such as cystic fibrosis or asthma. It can often be difficult to diagnose chILD because there are so many forms of the disease and many other conditions may have the same signs and symptoms. 

Due to the difficulties in diagnosis, we may have to perform lung biopsies because they remain the most effective way to diagnose chILD. Children's Colorado is an experienced world leader for lung biopsies in infants, children and adolescents. Our surgeons use the least invasive technique, called video assisted thoracoscopy (VATS) with excellent outcomes. All patients are admitted to the hospital for the procedure, but many patients can be discharged in less than 48 hours after the operation. Pain is also minimized by avoiding the use of a chest tube after the procedure in most cases.

The chILD Program team interacts with both the surgical and pathology team about the child’s case and the goals for the biopsy. As a leading chILD center, we process the biopsies and have the tissue read by the best ILD pathologists.