Is spirometry properly used to diagnose COPD? Results from the BOLD study in Salzburg, Austria: a population-based analytical study

Prim Care Respir J. 2013 Jun;22(2):195-200. doi: 10.4104/pcrj.2013.00032.


Background: Current guidelines recommend spirometry to confirm a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Aims: To investigate whether a self-reported diagnosis of COPD is associated with prior spirometry and whether a correct diagnosis of COPD is more likely when spirometry was performed.

Methods: We used data from the population-based Austrian Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD) study. Participants were aged >40 years and completed post-bronchodilator spirometry. Reported COPD diagnosis and reported prior lung function test were based on questionnaire. Persistent airflow limitation was defined as post-bronchodilator forced expiratory volume in one second/forced vital capacity ratio <0.7, corresponding with COPD Global initiative for chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) grade I+, and GOLD grade II+ was also investigated. A correct diagnosis of COPD was defined as a reported physician's diagnosis of COPD and the presence of persistent airflow limitation.

Results: 68 (5.4%) of 1,258 participants reported a prior physician's diagnosis of COPD. Of these, only 17 (25.0%) reported a lung function test within the past 12 months and 46 (67.6%) at any time in the past. The likelihood for a correct COPD GOLD grade I+ diagnosis was similar among subjects reporting a lung function test during the last 12 months (likelihood ratio 2.07, 95% CI 0.89 to 5.50) and those not reporting a lung function during the last 12 months (likelihood ratio 2.78, 95% CI 1.58 to 4.87). Similar likelihood ratios were seen when GOLD grade II+ was investigated and when lung function was reported at any time in the past.

Conclusions: One-third of subjects with a reported diagnosis of COPD never had a lung function test. When spirometry was reported, this did not increase the likelihood of a correct COPD diagnosis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Austria
  • Female
  • Forced Expiratory Volume / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / diagnosis*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / physiopathology
  • Spirometry / statistics & numerical data*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Vital Capacity / physiology