Comparison of spirometric changes in the response to bronchodilators of patients with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

J Bras Pneumol. 2008 Sep;34(9):675-82. doi: 10.1590/s1806-37132008000900007.
[Article in English, Portuguese]


Objective: Making the differential diagnosis between asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) based on the response to inhaled bronchodilators by means of spirometry is controversial. The objective of this study was to identify the most useful spirometric variables in order to distinguish between asthma and COPD.

Methods: Retrospective study conducted from April of 2004 to January of 2006, comparing the spirometric parameters of 103 nonsmoking patients with asthma to those of 108 patients with COPD who were smokers for more than 10 pack-years. All of the patients included in the study were older than 40 and presented stable disease at the time of the test.

Results: Initial forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1) was the same in the two groups (pre-bronchodilator VEF1 = 51%). However, patients with COPD were older (66 +/- 9 years vs. 59 +/- 11 years, p < 0.001) and more frequently male (73 vs. 27%, p < 0,001).After the use of the bronchodilator, the median absolute difference in FEV1 was 0.25 L (range, -0.09 to 1.13 L) in patients with asthma and 0.09 L (range, -0.1 to 0.73 L) in those with COPD (p < 0.001). The highest sensitivity (55%), specificity (91%) and likelihood ratio (6.1) for asthma diagnosis was obtained when the percentage increase in postbronchodilator FEV1 in relation to the predicted FEV1 (Delta%prevVEF1) was equal to or greater than 10%. Isolated significant increases in forced vital capacity were more common in patients with COPD.

Conclusions: In patients over the age of 40 and presenting obstructive lung disease, a Delta%prevVEF1 >or= 10% is the best spirometric parameter to distinguish asthma from COPD.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Asthma / diagnosis*
  • Asthma / physiopathology
  • Breath Tests
  • Bronchodilator Agents*
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume
  • Humans
  • Likelihood Functions
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sex Distribution
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / physiopathology*
  • Spirometry
  • Vital Capacity


  • Bronchodilator Agents