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Estimating population prevalence of potential airflow obstruction using different spirometric criteria: a pooled cross-sectional analysis of persons aged 40-95 years in England and Wales

23 Jul 2014


Consistent estimation of the burden of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has been hindered by differences in methods, including different spirometric cut-offs for impaired lung function. The impact of different definitions on the prevalence of potential airflow obstruction, and its associations with key risk factors, is evaluated using cross-sectional data from two nationally representative population surveys.


Pooled cross-sectional analysis of Wave 2 of the UK Household Longitudinal Survey and the Health Survey for England 2010, including 7879 participants, aged 40–95 years, who lived in England and Wales, without diagnosed asthma and with good-quality spirometry data. Potential airflow obstruction was defined using self-reported physician-diagnosed COPD; a fixed threshold (FT) forced expiratory volume in 1 s/forced vital capacity (FEV1/FVC) ratio <0.7 and an age-specific, sex-specific, height-specific and ethnic-specific lower limit of normal (LLN). Standardised questions elicited self-reported information on demography, smoking history, ethnicity, occupation, respiratory symptoms and cardiovascular disease.


Consistent across definitions, participants classed with obstructed airflow were more likely to be older, currently smoke, have higher pack-years of smoking and be engaged in routine occupations. The prevalence of airflow obstruction was 2.8% (95% CI 2.3% to 3.2%), 22.2% (21.2% to 23.2%) and 13.1% (12.2% to 13.9%) according to diagnosed COPD, FT and LLN, respectively. The gap in prevalence between FT and LLN increased in older age groups. Sex differences in the risk of obstruction, after adjustment for key risk factors, was sensitive to the choice of spirometric cut-off, being significantly higher in men when using FT, compared with no significant difference using LLN.


Applying FT or LLN spirometric cut-offs gives a different picture of the size and distribution of the disease burden. Longitudinal studies examining differences in unscheduled hospital admissions and risk of death between FT and LLN may inform the choice as to the best way to include spirometry in assessments of airflow obstruction.

23 July 2014

Click here to view the full article which appeared in BMJ Open