An isolated reduction of the FEV3/FVC ratio is an indicator of mild lung injury

Chest. 2013 Oct;144(4):1117-1123. doi: 10.1378/chest.12-2816.


Background: The FEV3/FVC ratio is not discussed in the American Thoracic Society/European Respiratory Society (ATS/ERS) guidelines for lung function interpretation in spite of narrow confidence limits of normal and its association with smoking. We sought to determine whether a reduction in only the FEV3/FVC ratio was associated with physiologic changes compared with subjects with normal FEV1/FVC and FEV3/FVC ratios.

Methods: Lung volumes and diffusion were studied in individuals with concomitant spirometry. Patients with restriction on total lung capacity (TLC) were excluded, as were repeat tests on the same patient. A total of 13,302 subjects were divided into three groups: (1) normal FEV1/FVC and FEV3/FVC (n = 7,937); (2) only a reduced FEV3/FVC (n = 840); and (3) reduced FEV1/FVC (n = 4,525).

Results: Subjects with only a reduced FEV3/FVC compared with those with normal FEV1/FVC and FEV3/FVC ratios had higher mean % predicted TLC (99.1% vs 97.1%, P < .001), residual volume (RV) (109.4% vs 102.3%, P < .001), and RV/TLC ratio (110.1% vs 105.4%, P < .001). They had lower mean % predicted FEV1 (82.6% vs 90.2%, P < .001), inspiratory capacity (94.5% vs 98.2%, P < .001), and diffusing capacity of lung for carbon monoxide (Dlco) (78.3% vs 81.9%, P < .001). Their mean BMI was lower (30.8 vs 31.5, P < .005), they were older (61.2 vs 57.2, P < .001), and more likely male (52.0% vs 40.4%, P < .001), with no racial differences. Comparing this group to those with a reduced FEV1/FVC, similar but greater differences were noted in all of the previous measurements, though mean age and sex were not significantly different.

Conclusions: The FEV3/FVC ratio should be routinely reported on spirometry. An isolated reduction may indicate an early injury pattern of hyperinflation, air trapping, and loss of Dlco.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume*
  • Humans
  • Lung Injury / physiopathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Vital Capacity*
  • Young Adult