Questionnaires and pocket spirometers provide an alternative approach for COPD screening in the general population

Chest. 2012 Aug;142(2):358-366. doi: 10.1378/chest.11-1474.


Background: In response to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality statement questioning the usefulness of “screening spirometry,” the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and the COPD Foundation held a consensus conference in June 2008 to establish a procedure to detect cases of COPD in the general population. Conference participants developed a three-stage approach, using a brief questionnaire, peak flow measurement with a pocket spirometer, and diagnostic quality spirometry. The overall objective of this study was to examine the usefulness of a simple questionnaire and peak flow measurement in screening for COPD in a self-selected population. We hypothesized that this combination would efficiently screen for clinically relevant COPD.

Methods: We queried individuals attending public events regarding the presence of wheeze and/or asthma, mucus production, dyspnea, exposure to irritants, and tobacco use. Peak expiratory flow (PEF) was then measured with a pocket spirometer. If PEF was < 70% predicted, spirometry was performed. In order to estimate the false-negative rate, a random sample of every 10th participant was also selected for spirometry.

Results: Between June 2008 and December 2009, 5,761 adults completed the risk assessment questionnaire. The mean age of the respondents was 54 years, 58% were women, and 88% were white. Of these, 5,638 participants completed pocket spirometry, and 315 (5.6%) had PEF < 70% predicted. Of 5,323 with normal PEF, 651 underwent spirometry. The performance of PEF was assessed via positive and negative predictive values relative to a diagnosis of clinically significant airflow obstruction, defined as FEV(1)/FEV(6) < the lower limit of normal and FEV(1) < 60% predicted. Of 4,238 subjects with at least two risk factors, 267 (6.3%) had PEF < 70%, compared with 48 of the 1,400 subjects (3.4%) with fewer than two risk factors (P < .001). Based on 729 participants with acceptable spirometry, 63.1% (113 of 179) of those with abnormal PEF tested positive for clinically significant airflow obstruction, compared with 5.5% (30 of 550) with normal PEF (P < .001). The estimated prevalence of significant COPD among the 5,638 screened was 8.7%, and sensitivity and specificity were 40.7% and 97.7%, respectively.

Conclusions: A staged approach to COPD screening in adults is useful for detecting clinically significant airflow obstruction in our study population.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / instrumentation*
  • Middle Aged
  • Peak Expiratory Flow Rate
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / complications
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Spirometry / instrumentation*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires*
  • United States
  • Young Adult