The maximal expiratory flow at 50 % of the forced vital capacity (MEF50) is the flow where half of forced vital capacity (FVC) remains to be exhaled. A reduced MEF50 has been suggested as a surrogate marker of small airways disease. The diagnostic and prognostic utility of this easy to assess spirometric variable in persons with respiratory symptoms, but without COPD is unclear.
We used data from the UHFO-COPD cohort in which 405 community-dwelling persons aged 65 years or over, and a general practitioner’s diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) underwent pulmonary function testing and echocardiography. In total 161 patients had no COPD according to the spirometric GOLD criteria. We considered MEF50 as reduced if < 60 % of predicted.
Of the 161 patients without COPD (mean age 72 ± 5.7 years; 35 % male; follow-up 4.5 ± 1.1 years), 61 (37.9 %) had a reduced MEF50. They were older, had more pack-years of smoking, more respiratory symptoms, and used more frequently inhaled medication than the remaining 100 subjects. A reduced MEF50 was nearly twice as often associated with newly detected heart failure (HF) at assessment (29.5 % vs. 15.6 %, p = 0.045). In age-and sex-adjusted Cox regression analysis, a reduced MEF50 was significantly associated with episodes of acute bronchitis (hazard ratio 2.54 95 % confidence interval (1.26; 5.13) P = 0.009), and in trend with pneumonia (2.14 (0.98; 4.69) P = 0.06) and hospitalizations for pulmonary reasons (2.28 (0.93; 5.62) P = 0.07).
In older community-dwelling persons with pulmonary symptoms but without COPD, a reduced MEF50 may help to uncover unrecognized HF, and identify those at a higher risk for episodes of acute bronchitis, pneumonia and hospitalizations for pulmonary reasons. Echocardiography and close follow-up should be considered in these patients.||