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COPD guidelines can lead to misdiagnoses

Jul 10, 2015 | Failure to Diagnose

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a major leading cause of death in New York and around the world. Approximately 27 million people suffer from COPD in the United States alone, with an estimated 210 million afflicted with it worldwide. Symptoms include breathing difficulty due to airway obstruction, shortness of breath and frequent coughing. Smoking is a leading cause of the disease.

Diagnosis requires a spirometric test that asks patients to expel air as forcefully as possible. The forced expiration value in one second (FEV1) is then divided by the forced vital capacity (FVC) of the patient. If the patient’s FEV1/FVC value is below a certain amount, after accounting for the patient’s age, sex, height and ethnicity, and the person is experiencing coughing and shortness of breath, COPD is diagnosed.

In 2001, the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease defined airway obstruction as a FEV1/FVC value of less than 0.7 without accounting for other factors like the patient’s age, ethnicity or sex. This could lead doctors to over-diagnose COPD in some populations such as older men and to fail to diagnose COPD in other populations, such as young women. One study estimated that up to 13 percent of people diagnosed under these guidelines receive an erroneous diagnosis.

A misdiagnosis can result in a worsened condition due to delayed treatment. Along with a failure to diagnose, it can be considered a form of medical malpractice if the medical professional who came to the wrong conclusion failed to exercise the requisite standard of care. Those who have been harmed in such a manner may want to consider speaking with an attorney to see if a lawsuit seeking damages from the practitioner is an appropriate remedy.