COPD ranks within the top three causes of mortality in the global burden of disease, yet it remains largely underdiagnosed. We assessed the underdiagnosis of COPD and its determinants in national and international surveys of general populations.
We analyzed representative samples of adults aged ≥ 40 years randomly selected from well-defined administrative areas worldwide (44 sites from 27 countries). Postbronchodilator FEV1/FVC < lower limit of normal (LLN) was used to define chronic airflow limitation consistent with COPD. Undiagnosed COPD was considered when participants had postbronchodilator FEV1/FVC < LLN but were not given a diagnosis of COPD.
Among 30,874 participants with a mean age of 56 years, 55.8% were women, and 22.9% were current smokers. Population prevalence of (spirometrically defined) COPD ranged from 3.6% in Barranquilla, Colombia, to 19.0% in Cape Town, South Africa. Only 26.4% reported a previous lung function test, and only 5.0% reported a previous diagnosis of COPD, whereas 9.7% had a postbronchodilator FEV1/FVC < LLN. Overall, 81.4% of (spirometrically defined) COPD cases were undiagnosed, with the highest rate in Ile-Ife, Nigeria (98.3%) and the lowest rate in Lexington, Kentucky (50.0%). In multivariate analysis, a greater probability of underdiagnosis of COPD was associated with male sex, younger age, never and current smoking, lower education, no previous spirometry, and less severe airflow limitation.
Even with substantial heterogeneity in COPD prevalence, COPD underdiagnosis is universally high. Because effective management strategies are available for COPD, spirometry can help in the diagnosis of COPD at a stage when treatment will lead to better outcomes and improved quality of life.