Should chest examination be reinstated in the early diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease?
Katja Oshaug, Peder A Halvorsen, Hasse Melbye
General Practice Research Unit, University of Tromsø, Tromsø, Norway
Background: Although proven to be associated with bronchial obstruction, chest signs are not listed among cues that should prompt spirometry in the early diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in established guidelines.
Aims: We aimed to explore how chest findings add to respiratory symptoms and a history of smoking in the diagnosis of COPD.
Methods: In a cross-sectional study, patients aged 40 years or older, previously diagnosed with either asthma or COPD in primary care, answered questionnaires and underwent physical chest examination and spirometry.
Results: Among the 375 patients included, 39.7% had forced expiratory volume in 1 second/forced vital capacity <0.7. Hyperresonance to percussion was the strongest predictor of COPD, with a sensitivity of 20.8, a specificity of 97.8, and likelihood ratio of 9.5. In multivariate logistic regression, where pack-years, shortness of breath, and chest findings were among the explanatory variables, three physical chest findings were independent predictors of COPD. Hyperresonance to percussion yielded the highest odds ratio (OR = 6.7), followed by diminished breath sounds (OR = 5.0), and thirdly wheezes (OR = 2.3). These three chest signs also gave significant diagnostic information when added to shortness of breath and pack-years in receiver operating-characteristic curve analysis.
Conclusion: We found that chest signs may add to respiratory symptoms and a history of smoking in the diagnosis of COPD, and we conclude that chest signs should be reinstated as cues to early diagnosis of COPD in patients 40 years or older.
Keywords: diagnosis, COPD, physical chest examination, spirometry