Underdiagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in Northern Sweden

Int J Tuberc Lung Dis. 2002 Jan;6(1):76-84.


Objective: To assess underdiagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Material and methods: Two cross-sectional studies of respiratory symptoms and diseases in two population samples of the same age living in the same areas in northern Sweden were performed 6 years apart. In 1986, 5698 (86%) out of 6610 subjects aged 35-36, 50-51 and 65-66 years responded to a postal questionnaire. In 1992 an identical study was performed, and 5617 subjects (87%) out of 6434 responded. Lung function measurements were performed in stratified samples.

Results: Of the subjects diagnosed with chronic bronchitis only 25% in 1986 and 23% in 1992 had been diagnosed prior to the study as having chronic bronchitis, emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic airflow limitation (CAL), used as a surrogate variable for COPD and defined as FEV1/VC <70% and FEV1 <80% of predicted value, was found in 171 subjects in 1986-1987 (12% of the examined subjects), and 166 subjects in 1993-1994 (11%). In 1986-1987, 26% of the subjects with CAL had been diagnosed as having chronic bronchitis or emphysema prior to the survey, while a diagnosis of either asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema, or use of asthma medicines, was found in 58%. The corresponding figures in 1993-1994 were 31% and 63%, respectively. The great majority of the subjects with CAL had recurrent wheeze, dyspnoea and chronic productive cough.

Conclusion: Approximately 60% of the subjects with chronic airflow limitation had been diagnosed prior to the survey as having asthma, chronic bronchitis or emphysema, or were using asthma medicines. The results were similar in 1986-1987 and 1993-1994.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / epidemiology