Spirometric assessment

The presence of airflow limitation in COPD is assessed using spirometry.1 Spirometry is required to diagnose COPD and assess the severity of disease.

Spirometry alone does not differentiate between airflow obstruction due to asthma or COPD but, when used in conjunction with reversibility testing, it gives an accepted diagnosis of COPD. In COPD, forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) is also used as a measure for assessing severity and prognosis, and monitoring disease progression.

Poorly reversible airflow limitation is indicated by the absolute reduction of postbronchodilator FEV1 and forced vital capacity (FVC) ratios. An FEV1/FVC ratio < 0.70 indicates airflow obstruction that is not fully reversible.

A symptomatic assessment of a patient with COPD can be made based on the patient’s spirometric classification and/or risk of exacerbation, as detailed in Figure 1.

Lung spirometry Figure 1. Example spirometry traces representing healthy patients and those with obstructive disease.
Adapted from GOLD Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of COPD 2011.1


  1. Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD): Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management, and Prevention of COPD. 2013. www.goldcopd.org

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