Diagnostic strategies for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

B.D.L. Broekhuizen

Research output: ThesisDoctoral thesis 1 (Research UU / Graduation UU)


Adequate detection of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in patients who present with persistent cough in general practice is highly warranted, because targeted interventions for COPD (notably smoking cessation programmes) improve the quality of life. Nevertheless, much is unknown about the diagnostic value of tests that are usually included in the diagnostic workup in suspected COPD in primary care, including symptoms and signs. Whether and to what extent COPD can be excluded or diagnosed by history taking and physical examination is unknown, as is the added diagnostic value of spirometry by general practitioners (GPs). The independent value of other potentially useful diagnostic tests, such as level of C-reactive protein (CRP) and reversibility testing after an oral corticosteroid test, has also never been reported. Persistent cough is one of the most frequent complaints in general practice which underlines that diagnostic strategies for COPD in these patients should be efficient and evidence based. The study aims of this thesis were to quantify the diagnostic value of different (combinations of) diagnostic tests in middle aged and elderly patients suspected of COPD, i.e., those consulting their GP because of persistent cough. 400 patients were included in a diagnostic study in the Netherlands performed between 2006 and 2009. They underwent an extensive diagnostic work-up for COPD, including standardised history taking and physical examination, as well as secondary care lung function tests. An expert panel finally determined the presence or absence of COPD (reference test), and found that 118 patients (30 %) had COPD. History taking and physical examination items with independent diagnostic value were increasing age, male gender, current smoking, > 20 pack years of smoking, a history of cardiovascular disease, wheezing complaints, diminished breath sounds and wheezing on auscultation. A multivariable score combining these items was accurate for excluding COPD (the negative predictive value of a low score was 92 %). This score had additional diagnostic value beyond the physician’s own initial clinical estimation of the probability of COPD. Adding spirometry results obtained by the GP to the before mentioned history and physical examination substantially improved diagnostic risk classification for COPD. CRP levels on the other hand had no clinically relevant added value. The diagnostic value of a prednisolone test for excluding or diagnosing COPD was also studied in 233 study patients with persistent cough. All subjects used a 14 day prednisolone test of 30 milligram per day including before and after measurement of the post bronchodilator forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1). The prednisolone test result was defined positive if the FEV1 exceeded 200 ml or 12 % of the baseline value. A positive test result was associated with COPD, but had no value in addition to more easily obtainable diagnostic information. In the general discussion, implications for clinical practice and future research, in the view of our main finding were debated.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Utrecht University
  • Moons, KGM, Primary supervisor
  • Hoes, Arno, Supervisor
  • Verheij, Theo, Supervisor
  • Sachs, APE, Co-supervisor
Award date9 Dec 2010
Print ISBNs978-90-393-5438-4
Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2010


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