Researchers May Have Discovered Why Emphysema Is Often Missed In Black Men

U.S. News & World Report states that researchers may have learned why emphysema diagnoses are often missed in black men. They believe that errors in measuring lung function may arise from inaccurate long-held assumptions that black men have smaller lungs. The American Journal of Managed Care writes that black men have historically often been found to have normal lung function after race-based adjustments were made on spirometry. These assumptions are rooted in ideas that have no real biological basis, according to the authors of the study.

Emphysema is a lung disease in which the air sacs of the lungs become damaged, explains the Mayo Clinic. The inner walls of these sacs become weaker and burst, resulting in larger spaces and reduced surfaces in which oxygen is absorbed. People who have emphysema have shortness of breath because they are no longer able to exhale properly, leaving less room for oxygen-rich air to enter the sacs. Spirometry is used to help diagnose this disease. The American Lung Association describes spirometry as a type of test that measures how much air you can breathe in and out. It also looks at how easily and quickly you can exhale.

Griswold Home Care notes that early diagnosis improves the life expectancy for emphysema, making it very important for people to be correctly diagnosed in the early stages of the disease. Steps like quitting smoking can slow the progression of the disease and extend lives.

Racially-based spirometry linked to emphysema underdiagnosis

U.S. News & World Report conveyed that the study looked at results from over 2,600 black and white men who had lung CT scans (computed tomography) around 50 years old and spirometry around 55. CT scans take X-ray images from several different directions in order to create a cross-sectional image of the lungs, according to information from the Mayo Clinic. They can be used to detect the lung changes associated with emphysema.

There was a significant difference between the two racial groups. Almost 15% of black men with greater than normal results on racially-adjusted spirometry were found to have emphysema when given a CT scan. A little under 2% of white men did, according to U.S. News & World Report.

While these findings are preliminary and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, the study authors say their findings suggest that black men should not be subject to racial adjustments to their lung function testing. Instead, they recommend using race-neutral reference equations as well as doing further research by performing CT imaging studies on those with breathing issues.