Diagnostic work-up in patients with possible asthma referred to a university hospital


OBJECTIVE: The best strategy for diagnosing asthma remains unclear. Accordingly, the aim of this study was to evaluate diagnostic strategies in individuals with possible asthma referred to a respiratory outpatient clinic at a university hospital.

METHODS: All individuals with symptoms suggestive of asthma referred over 12 months underwent spirometry, bronchodilator reversibility test, Peak expiratory flow rate (PEF) registration, and bronchial challenge test with methacholine and mannitol on three separate days. The results of these tests were compared against an asthma diagnosis based on symptoms, presence of atopy and baseline spirometry made by a panel of three independent respiratory specialists.

RESULTS: Of the 190 individuals examined, 63% (n=122) were classified as having asthma. Reversibility to β2-agonist had the lowest sensitivity of 13%, whereas airway hyperresponsiveness to methacholine had the highest (69%). In contrast, specificity was the highest for reversibility testing (93%), whereas methacholine had the lowest specificity (57%). The combination of reversibility, peak-flow variability, and methacholine yielded a cumulative sensitivity of 78%, albeit a specificity of 41%. In comparison, a combination of reversibility and mannitol resulted in a specificity of 82% and a sensitivity of 42%.

CONCLUSION: In this real-life population, different diagnostic test combinations were required to achieve a high specificity for diagnosing asthma and a high sensitivity, respectively: Our findings suggest that the diagnostic test approach should be based on whether the aim is to exclude asthma (high sensitivity required) or confirm a diagnosis of asthma (high specificity required).

TidsskriftEuropean Clinical Respiratory Journal
StatusUdgivet - 2015


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