Screening Spirometry in Military Personnel Correlates Poorly with Exercise Tolerance and Asthma History

David M.F. Anderson*, Nicholas R. Ondrasik, Frederic A. Rawlins, Joshua A. Lospinoso, Thomas B. Zanders, Michael J. Morris

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND: Spirometry is an easy-to-perform test for evaluating pulmonary symptoms but has several limitations to include adequate test performance for valid results. Spirometry is not recommended to screen a general population for evidence of pulmonary disease unless symptoms are present or longitudinal screening is done for potential occupational exposures. METHODS: A single-spirometry examination was performed on 900 active duty Army soldiers, ages 18-35 yr, without documented respiratory disease. Abnormal studies were identified (obstructive, restrictive, mixed, and flow volume loop abnormalities) and compared with reported respiratory symptoms, smoking history, prior diagnosis of asthma, and failure of the Army physical fitness test 2-mile run using generalized linear modeling techniques. RESULTS: The cohort population had spirometry values comparable with published NHANES III reference values. Ninety-eight subjects (10.9%) were identified with abnormal spirometry included 33 obstructive, 44 restrictive, 3 mixed, and 18 isolated flow volume loop abnormalities. Historical features (smoking, exertional dyspnea, cough, asthma, or APFT failure) had no effect on the probability of an abnormal spirometry result (p = 0.56). Although APFT failure probability is strongly affected by exertional dyspnea (p = 0.00) and current smoking (p = 0.01), abnormal spirometry results did not have a statistically significant effect (p = 0.38). DISCUSSION: For potential screening of military personnel with spirometry to detect pulmonary disease, study findings identified a significant percentage with non-specific abnormalities requiring further evaluation. Spirometry may be indicated in those individuals with a history of asthma or active dyspnea symptoms. Spirometry as a screening tool is poorly (and often incorrectly) predictive for respiratory symptoms or decreased exercise tolerance in a military cohort. CONCLUSION: Spirometry should not be used to screen the military force for the presence of respiratory disorders. In those individuals with a history of asthma, in-depth testing should be performed to fully evaluate any non-specific findings identified during spirometry.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E562-E569
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1 Sep 2018


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