doctor patient distressAfter evaluating patients previously diagnosed with COPD, or who were prescribed an anticholinergic inhaler, investigators at Northeast Ohio Medical University discovered that 42.5% of the patients had no obstruction at all. Another 23% had reversible obstruction. Only Only 35% of the patients had non-reversible obstruction, according to research presented at the ATS 2013 conference.

“We were shocked at the percentage,” said Christian Ghattas, MD, MSc, a second-year medical resident at Saint Elizabeth Health Center in Youngstown, Ohio. She noted that the true rate of misdiagnosis was probably closer to half because, though the team did not evaluate the 23% with reversible obstruction further, the investigators felt certain that many of those patients were misdiagnosed with COPD.

“This study confirms that symptoms alone are insufficient to make a COPD diagnosis,” said Magdi H. Awad, PharmD, assistant professor of pharmacy at Northeast Ohio Medical University. “Shortness of breath, cough, and sputum production can indicate other respiratory problems like allergies-or they may be symptoms of a heart problems or of simply being overweight.”

The average age of a study participant was 53 years, with a 38-year-smoking-pack history. Most of the participants were female, Caucasian, and uninsured.

“Although the number of patients in our study was small, I believe this study is representative of an uninsured and underserved patient population,” said Ghattas, who noted the findings might be different among patients who are insured. “It is obviously detrimental to be on medications that won’t work for you. You won’t feel better — and that by itself can take a psychological toll — and you may experience side effects that can compromise other aspects of your health.”