Background: The prevalence of undiagnosed airflow obstruction is difficult to measure since it requires screening in population-based samples to identify individuals free of clinical symptoms. The purpose of this report is to examine the prevalence of undiagnosed airflow obstruction and its relation with respiratory symptoms in middle-age adults in the Korean Health and Genome (KHG) Study.
Methods: The KHG study is an ongoing population-based study of Korean adults aged 40 to 69 years. The current report includes 8,140 men and women without a pulmonary disorder or obstructive lung disease. In this sample, undiagnosed airflow obstruction was defined on the basis of spirometric testing and in the absence of a medical history or a recognized pulmonary disorder. Respiratory symptoms included chronic cough, chronic phlegm, wheezing, and shortness of breath.
Results: Undiagnosed airflow obstruction was observed in 12.4% of the men (470 of 3,806 subjects) and in 3.5% of the women (152 of 4,334 subjects). In men, the age-adjusted prevalence of undiagnosed airflow obstruction increased consistently with increasing number of respiratory symptoms. In those who smoked, there was a 2.3-fold excess in its prevalence when three or more symptoms were present, as compared to when they were absent (27.4% vs 12.0%, p < 0.001). A 2.4-fold excess (20.6% vs 8.5%, p = 0.004) was observed in nonsmoking men, in whom respiratory symptoms were consistently less common than in those who smoked. Respiratory symptoms were unrelated to undiagnosed airflow obstruction in women smokers, although only 3.9% smoked cigarettes. In women who were nonsmokers, the prevalence of undiagnosed airflow obstruction increased from 2.3% in those without a respiratory symptom to 6.0% when three or more symptoms were present (p = 0.003).
Conclusions: Findings suggest that undiagnosed airflow obstruction is common in Korea with several respiratory symptoms. Whether respiratory symptoms with associations with undiagnosed airflow obstruction can be used to design early intervention strategies that prevent or delay the onset of COPD and its disabling consequences warrants further study.