(BPRW) Why Emphysema May Often Be Missed in Black Men

(Black PR Wire) Emphysema is missed more often in Black Americans than in white Americans, and now researchers report they have figured out why.

The investigators found that many Black men who were considered to have normal results after race-specific interpretations of a common lung function test called spirometry actually had emphysema when assessed using computed tomography (CT).

Spirometry measures how much air a person can exhale and inhale. It’s standard practice to interpret spirometry results using race-specific norms, resulting in a predicted lower limit of normal for FEV1 and FVC for Black patients, the study authors explained. FEV1 (forced expiratory volume in the first second) is the maximum amount of air a person can exhale in one second and FVC (forced vital capacity) is the maximum amount exhaled after breathing in deeply.

Black men and emphysema

Race-based correction of spirometry has no biological basis and comes from an old mistaken belief that Black people have smaller lungs, the study authors pointed out.

For the study, the researchers examined the results from more than 2,600 Black and white men who had lung CT scans at an average age of 50 and spirometry at an average age of 55.

The study showed that nearly 15% of the Black men with above-normal spirometry results based on race-based adjustments were found to have emphysema on CT scans, compared with just under 2% of white men.

“We found that significant racial disparities in emphysema prevalence occur predominantly among those with FEV1 between 80% and 120% of that predicted,” said study author Dr. Gabrielle Liu. She is a pulmonary and critical care fellow at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“This suggests that the greatest potential for misclassification using race-specific equations occurs among Black adults who are at risk for disease and who could potentially benefit from risk factor modification,” said Liu, who was scheduled to present the findings May 15 at the American Thoracic Society annual meeting in San Francisco. Such findings are considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“We feel these findings support reconsidering the use of race-specific spirometry reference equations in favor of race-neutral reference equations, and support further research into the utility and implications of incorporating CT imaging into the evaluation of those with suspected impaired respiratory health and normal spirometry,” Liu said in a meeting news release 

What is emphysema?

Emphysema involves the gradual destruction of lung tissue and is often associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Emphysema affects the air sacs in your lungs. These typically stretchy/elastic sacs fill up with air, like a small balloon when you breathe in and deflate when you breathe out or the air goes out.

However, if you have emphysema, many of your sacs may become damaged, which will instead cause them to lose their shape and become floppy. Emphysema can also destroy the walls of the air sacs, which will create fewer and larger air sacs instead of many tiny ones making it harder for your lungs to move oxygen in and carbon dioxide out of your body.

While you may have no symptoms or only mild symptoms at first, as the disease progresses, your symptoms may include:

  • Frequent coughing or wheezing
  • A cough that produces a lot of mucus
  • Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity
  • A whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe
  • Tightness in your chest

If you have severe symptoms, such as trouble catching your breath or talking, call your health care provider, especially if your symptoms are getting worse or if you have signs of an infection, such as a fever.

Getting diagnosed

If you believe you may have emphysema, see a doctor. He or she will be able to make a diagnosis based off of: 

  • A medical history, which includes asking about your symptoms
  • A family history
  • Other tests, such as lung function tests, a chest x-ray or CT scan, and blood tests

 Although there is no cure for emphysema, treatments and lifestyle changes can help with symptoms, slow the progress of the disease, and improve your ability to stay active. Additionally, there are treatments available that can prevent or treat complications of the disease such as medicines, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation, and surgery.

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