Diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in the primary care setting

Hippokratia. 2012; 16 (1): 17-22

D. Spyratos, D. Chloros, L. Sichletidis


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) remains a major cause of morbidity and mortality with increasing rates during the last decades. Due to the progressive nature of the disease, underestimation of symptoms by the patients, lack of knowledge and underuse of spirometry by the Primary Care providers the disease remains under-diagnosed in about half of the cases. Patients with a smoking history of ≥20 pack-years and relevant symptoms (e.g. dyspnea, chronic cough and sputum production) are considered a high risk group. Measurement of spirometric parameters after administration of a short acting bronchodilator confirms the presence of irreversible airflow obstruction and establishes the diagnosis. However in the primary care spirometry is usually not available and differential diagnosis with other obstructive pulmonary diseases (e.g. asthma, bronchiectasis) is not always easy. General Practitioners (GPs) need simple screening tools to decide if a patient belong to a high risk group and pulmonary consultation is necessary. Early and accurate diagnosis of COPD in the primary care setting allowing for a timely and effective management which reduces the rate of decline in lung function improves survival of patients, their quality of life and reduces health-care utilization. The aim of the present review is to provide the existing information about COPD diagnosis and the related problems in the Primary Care. Also we reviewed numerous simple COPD diagnosis questionnaires as well as the use of hand-held flow meters which could be used as effective screening tools.