Between-Visit Variability in FEV1 as a Diagnostic Test for Asthma in Adults

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Abstract

Rationale:

The reliability of using between-visit variation in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) to diagnose asthma is understudied, and hence uncertain.

Objective:

To determine whether FEV1 variability measured over recurrent visits is significantly associated with a diagnosis of current asthma.

Methods:

Randomly selected adults (N = 964) with a history of physician-diagnosed asthma were studied from 2005 to 2007 and from 2012 to 2016. A diagnosis of current asthma was confirmed in those participants who exhibited bronchial hyperresponsiveness to methacholine and/or acute worsening of asthma symptoms while being weaned off asthma medications. Regression analyses and receiver operating curves were used to evaluate the ability of between-visit FEV1 variability to diagnose asthma.

Results:

A current diagnosis of asthma was confirmed in 584 of 964 participants (60%). Between-visit absolute variability in FEV1 was significantly greater in those in whom current asthma was confirmed, compared with those in whom current asthma was ruled out (7.3% vs. 4.8%; mean difference between the two groups, 2.5%; 95% confidence interval, 1.7-3.3%). However, a 12% and 200-ml between-visit variation in FEV1, which is the diagnostic threshold recommended by Global Initiative for Asthma, exhibited a sensitivity of only 0.17 and a specificity of 0.94 for confirming current asthma. A between-visit absolute variability in FEV1 ≥ 12% and 200 ml increased the pretest probability of asthma from 60% to a posttest probability of 81%.

Conclusions:

A 12% and 200-ml between-visit variation in FEV1, if present, has reasonably good specificity for diagnosing asthma, but has poor sensitivity compared with bronchial challenge testing. Between-visit variability in FEV1 is a relatively unhelpful test to establish a diagnosis of asthma.

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