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Br J Gen Pract. 2010 July 1; 60(576): 489–494.
PMCID: PMC2894377

Undetected chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma in people over 50 years with persistent cough

Berna DL Broekhuizen, MD, PhD Student
Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands
Alfred PE Sachs, MD, PhD, Associate Professor
Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands
Arno W Hoes, MD, PhD, Professor
Department General Practice and Clinical Epidemiology, Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands
Karel GM Moons, Professor
Department of Clinical Epidemiology, Julius Center for Health Sciences and Primary Care, University Medical Center Utrecht, the Netherlands
Jan WK van den Berg, MD, PhD, Lung Physician
Department of Pulmonology, Isala Klinieken, Zwolle, the Netherlands
Willem H Dalinghaus, MD, Lung Physician
Department of Pulmonology, Meander Medical Center, Amersfoort, the Netherlands
Ernst Lammers, Lung Physician
Department of Pulmonology, Gelre Hospital, Zutphen, the Netherlands
Theo JM Verheij, MD, PhD, Professor

Abstract

Background

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma are underdiagnosed in primary care.

Aim

To determine how often COPD or asthma are present in middle-aged and older patients who consult their GP for persistent cough.

Design of study

A cross-sectional study in 353 patients older than 50 years, visiting their GP for persistent cough and not known to have COPD or asthma.

Setting

General practice in the Netherlands.

Method

All participants underwent extensive diagnostic work-up, including symptoms, signs, spirometry, and body plethysmography. All results were studied by an expert panel to diagnose or exclude COPD and/or asthma. The reproducibility of the panel diagnosis was assessed by calculation of Cohen's κ statistic in a sample of 41 participants.

Results

Of the 353 participants, 102 (29%, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 24 to 34%) were diagnosed with COPD. In 14 of these 102 participants, both COPD and asthma were diagnosed (4%, 95% CI = 2 to 7%). Asthma (without COPD) was diagnosed in 23 (7%, 95% CI = 4 to 10%) participants. Mean duration of cough was 93 days (median 40 days). The reproducibility of the expert panel was good (Cohen's κ = 0.90).

Conclusion

In patients aged over 50 years who consult their GP for persistent cough, undetected COPD or asthma is frequently present.

Keywords: asthma, cough, COPD, early diagnosis

Articles from The British Journal of General Practice are provided here courtesy of Royal College of General Practitioners