NEW YORK, Oct. 28 (UPI) -- Primary care clinicians may soon be able to provide an early diagnosis for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, using a new method.
According to researchers, patients with COPD can be diagnosed with the help of 5 questions and a peak expiratory flow meter, or PEF. The scientists tested their new approach in a study published online in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.
The questionnaire used in the study asks patients to assess how often their breathing is complicated by external factors such as physical activity or fatigue. The peak expiratory flow was used to supplement the assessment by providing data for the researchers.
"The researchers created and tested a simple tool that may help practitioners improve care by finding people who have COPD but didn't know it," Dr. James Kiley, director of the Division of Lung Diseases at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, explained in a press release. "The hope is that by finding individuals with COPD at an earlier stage of illness, we might be able to offer them treatments which can improve their disease. NHLBI's support of the research that led to this tool exemplifies the ongoing commitment of NHLBI to COPD research."
Out of 44 possible questions, patients with COPD or at risk of developing it helped researchers select the five questions most likely to identify the condition.
"We as clinicians did not expect some of the questions to be included, but they resonated with patients," said lead author Dr. Fernando Martinez, chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College
The case-control study involved 346 men and women with an average age of 63. Based on the questionnaire, researchers found 52 percent of participants required PEF to determine if additional testing was needed. The researchers report the questionnaire plus PEF had a high rate of sensitivity at 89.7 percent and specificity at 78.1 percent.
The NHLBI, part of the National Institutes of Health, reports that over 12 million people are diagnosed with COPD in the United States. The organization estimates an additional 12 million have the disease and are unaware of it. The research team is confident their simple approach will help medical professionals catch the disease at its earlier stages.