Comparison of airway conductance and FEV(1) as measures of airway responsiveness to methacholine. Discrimination of small differences in bronchial responsiveness with Gaw and FEV(1)

B M Sundblad, P Malmberg, K Larsson
Clinical Physiology 2001, 21 (6): 673-81
When defining bronchial responsiveness in healthy, non-asthmatic, subjects exposed in different working situations, it is not clear whether different outcome measures yield similar results. Therefore, the concentration and dose of methacholine that caused a 20% decrease in forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV(1)) (PC20(FEV(1)) and PD20(FEV(1))), the corresponding change in Gaw and the relationship between the dose-response slope (DRS) for FEV(1) and Gaw was studied in different working populations and healthy control subjects (n=1038). The two outcome measures were compared in groups of subjects in whom differences in bronchial responsiveness could be anticipated [atopics (n=72) and non-atopics (n= 207) and subjects exposed (n=54) and not exposed (n=32) to saw dust]. A bronchial challenge was also made before and after exposure in a swine confinement building, an exposure known to increase bronchial responsiveness (n=37). PD20(FEV(1)) was 1.7 mg in atopics and 4.9 mg in non-atopics, 7.1 mg in saw dust exposed and >20 mg in non-exposed subjects and 5.3 mg before and 0.79 mg after exposure to organic dust. There was a correlation between DRS(FEV(1)) and DRS(Gaw), r=0.87 (P<0.001). In subjects who were highly sensitive to methacholine a 20% change in FEV(1) corresponded to <40% change in Gaw, while a 20% decrease in FEV1 corresponded to none or a minor decrease in Gaw in subjects with less methacholine-sensitive airways. The ability to detect differences in bronchial responsiveness between groups, or to detect changes in bronchial responsiveness following exposure was approximately the same for FEV(1) and Gaw. The reproducibility was similar for both variables and a second measurement was within one doubling of the methacholine concentration of the first provocation in approximately 95% of all measurements (n=41). In conclusion, with our methacholine provocation method, FEV(1) and Gaw had similar sensitivity in detecting small differences in bronchial responsiveness in healthy subjects.

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