COPD Often Improperly Diagnosed

Two-thirds of lung patients don't receive exam called spirometery, study says

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TUESDAY, June 13, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Too many people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are diagnosed without first undergoing accurate testing, a new study suggests.

COPD is swelling of the airways typically caused by emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Long-term smokers are at highest risk.

A simple, non-invasive test known as spirometry is the most accurate method of diagnosing those with COPD, but two-thirds of people diagnosed with the disorder don't receive the exam.

"Spirometry testing is necessary for the diagnosis and staging of COPD, yet the majority of patients with COPD are being diagnosed based on symptoms and smoking history," said study lead researcher Todd A. Lee, of Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Lee and his fellow researchers studied the use of spirometry among 197,878 people from the Veterans Health Administration health-care system who had been diagnosed with COPD. The study concluded that at least two-thirds of patients were diagnosed without the use of a spirometry test.

U.S. guidelines recommend spirometry when diagnosing COPD. The study findings appear in the June issue of the journal Chest.

Dr. Michael Alberts, president of the American College of Chest Physicians, said in a prepared statement: "Symptoms of COPD may not be noticeable for several years, making it difficult to diagnose and treat the disease in its early stages. Lung function testing for smokers and other high risk patients may help with early identification of COPD and more effective disease management."

More information

To learn more about COPD, visit the American Lung Association.

SOURCE: American College of Chest Physicians, news release, June 12, 2006

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