Undiagnosed airflow obstruction: prevalence and implications

Curr Opin Pulm Med. 2003 Mar;9(2):96-103. doi: 10.1097/00063198-200303000-00002.


Conditions associated with airflow obstruction are often over- and underdiagnosed. Prevalence estimates of undiagnosed airflow obstruction (UDAO) range from 3 to 12%. UDAO is a nonspecific physiologic abnormality that may be caused by a number of factors (eg, cigarette smoking) and can be the manifestation of many different disorders. The higher occurrence of UDAO among men, current or former smokers, and with advancing age provide preliminary evidence on probable causes and diagnoses (ie, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). While cigarette smoking is associated with UDAO, a substantial proportion of persons have never smoked, particularly among women. Few studies suggest that this condition is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. While there is currently no evidence to support screening for UDAO, case-finding may have a role among persons with respiratory symptoms, who have ever smoked, with a family history of respiratory disease, or with occupational exposures to dusts or fumes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Airway Obstruction / diagnosis*
  • Airway Obstruction / epidemiology
  • Airway Obstruction / etiology
  • Health Status
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / epidemiology
  • Sex Factors
  • Spirometry
  • United States / epidemiology