According to DRIVE4COPD, a public health initiative lead by the COPD Foundation, as many as 12 million Americans may have Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) but remain undiagnosed.
What’s arguably more surprising, though, is how often COPD is reportedly misdiagnosed. Some estimates, including one from Medical News Today, suggest more than 40 percent of patients diagnosed and being treated for COPD do not actually have the chronic disease.
In the recent study, researchers Christian Ghattas, MD., MSc, and Magdi H. Awad, Pharm.D, tested 80 patients who had been diagnosed with COPD or prescribed an anticholinergic inhaler by their primary health care providers. They discovered roughly 42 percent of these patients had no airway obstruction and, therefore, no COPD. Additionally, 23 percent of patients studied had reversible obstruction more characteristic of asthma than COPD.
These figures are similar to those from a Medical Journal of Australia (MJA) study from 2011. In that study, researchers examined 445 patients who were taking respiratory medication and had been diagnosed with COPD by their primary physicians. They found only 57.8 percent of those patients actually had COPD.
Why is COPD Misdiagnosed?
According to Global Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), spirometry, a test that measures the amount of air a person can breathe out and the amount of time it takes to do so, is as important for the diagnosis of COPD as blood pressure measurements are for the diagnosis of hypertension. MJA calls spirometry essential for accurate diagnosis of COPD, and Dr. Awad says, “symptoms alone are insufficient to make a COPD diagnosis.” In both studies, the majority of patients were not previously evaluated with spirometry.
During a spirometry test, a patient is asked to keep his or her nostrils closed with a clip and breathe out quickly through their mouth, usually three times or more. Researchers evaluated those with COPD in the studies with spirometry to determine diagnosis accuracy. (See the blog “Life With COPD: Spirometry Test Basics” for more information about spirometry.)
What Does this Mean for You?
Remember, this report is intended for informational use only. It should not be used in place of advice or direction given by a certified physician. Do not stop your prescribed treatment before speaking with your physician. If you have been diagnosed with COPD and did not receive a spirometry test, talk with your physician about your options for scheduling a test to confirm your diagnosis. It’s not uncommon for those with COPD to undergo periodic spirometry to check how well their medications are working and whether their symptoms are under control.
Before speaking with your doctor, download “Living with COPD: 9 Questions to Ask Your Physician” to better prepare for your next appointment.