Forced Expiratory Flow at 25%-75% Links COPD Physiology to Emphysema and Disease Severity in the SPIROMICS Cohort

Chronic Obstr Pulm Dis. 2022 Apr 29;9(2):111-121. doi: 10.15326/jcopdf.2021.0241.


Background: Forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) is central to the diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) but is imprecise in classifying disease burden. We examined the potential of the maximal mid-expiratory flow rate (forced expiratory flow rate between 25% and 75% [FEF25%-75%]) as an additional tool for characterizing pathophysiology in COPD.

Objective: To determine whether FEF25%-75% helps predict clinical and radiographic abnormalities in COPD.

Study design and methods: The SubPopulations and InteRediate Outcome Measures In COPD Study (SPIROMICS) enrolled a prospective cohort of 2978 nonsmokers and ever-smokers, with and without COPD, to identify phenotypes and intermediate markers of disease progression. We used baseline data from 2771 ever-smokers from the SPIROMICS cohort to identify associations between percent predicted FEF25%-75% (%predFEF25%-75%) and both clinical markers and computed tomography (CT) findings of smoking-related lung disease.

Results: Lower %predFEF25-75% was associated with more severe disease, manifested radiographically by increased functional small airways disease, emphysema (most notably with homogeneous distribution), CT-measured residual volume, total lung capacity (TLC), and airway wall thickness, and clinically by increased symptoms, decreased 6-minute walk distance, and increased bronchodilator responsiveness (BDR). A lower %predFEF25-75% remained significantly associated with increased emphysema, functional small airways disease, TLC, and BDR after adjustment for FEV1 or forced vital capacity (FVC).

Interpretation: The %predFEF25-75% provides additional information about disease manifestation beyond FEV1. These associations may reflect loss of elastic recoil and air trapping from emphysema and intrinsic small airways disease. Thus, %predFEF25-75% helps link the anatomic pathology and deranged physiology of COPD.

Keywords: FEF25-75%; emphysema; functional small airways disease; mid-flow rate; pulmonary physiology; spirometry.