Office spirometry test alone is not enough to diagnose COPD

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August 22, 2019 - 10:22 AM

Dear Dr. Roach: I am a healthy 70-year-old woman. The only prescription medication I take is for dry eyes. I recently visited my new primary physician for the first time, and she had me do a breathing test, where I exhaled into a tube to measure airflow. I was told to breathe deeply and exhale completely into the tube three times in succession. It took less than a minute to complete. It is apparently a routine test she orders for new patients.

She then told me I have COPD, on the basis of that test alone. She asked if I had ever smoked or been exposed to secondhand smoke. That was her only question — coughing or shortness of breath was never mentioned. I have never smoked, but my father was a smoker when I was growing up. I actually do have a slightly productive cough most mornings. I probably walk about 10 miles a week, and I do notice some shortness of breath on long uphill sections, though I can walk briskly in level areas for miles with no problem.

She said it is not advanced enough to require an inhaler at this time. I am bothered by this very easy “diagnosis” on the basis of one simple test. I wonder if I should ask to be referred to a pulmonologist for a more thorough evaluation. — O.P.

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