Patients seen in my office at the Lung Disease Center often have a brief pulmonary function test, called a spirometry, done prior to my visit. Because we can do this test at the time of the patient’s office visit, in a few minutes before I see them, it is used quite often. Sometimes patients will question the need for the study since it was stable the last time it was done, usually 6 months or a year ago. For most of the patients this is not a diagnostic tool, but rather a means of following their airflow patterns to determine if things are getting worse, better, or staying the same.
Adding additional support for doing a spirometry on follow up visits and observing patterns, is a recent study which shows that rapidly declining airflow or, in other words, airflow obstruction may be a sign of worsening cardiovascular disease in particular heart failure. The risk of heart failure was found to be 4 times higher in patients experiencing rapid declines in airflow, as measured by spirometry. This is particularly important since many patients with lung disease, like COPD, are afflicted with shortness of breath on exertion, which can be related to heart failure as well.
The investigators concluded “…In addition to providing information regarding risk of pulmonary disease, serial changes in spirometry also provide the clinician information regarding the risk of cardiovascular disease.” This is an important statement for both patients and physicians in regard to routine spirometric testing.