Relationship between FEV1 reduction and respiratory symptoms in the general population

N Jakeways, T McKeever, SA Lewis, ST Weiss, J Britton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Obstructive airways diseases typically present with dyspnoea, cough and wheeze, and are defined by a reduced forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1)/ forced vital capacity (FVC) ratio. Traditionally, however, the severity of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is graded by the FEV1 % predicted rather than the FEV1/FVC ratio, whilst other potentially valid measures of FEV1 impairment, such as the absolute difference of FEV1 from predicted or the absolute level of FEV1, tend not to be used. The authors have therefore explored the relationship between these different measures of FEV1 impairment and chronic respiratory symptoms in a general population sample.

FEV1 and FVC were measured and questionnaire data were obtained on cough, wheeze, shortness of breath and general self-reported breathing trouble in a cross-sectional survey of 2,633 adults aged 18-70 yrs from a district of Nottingham, UK. Odds ratios for each symptom were calculated for declining levels of absolute FEV1, FEV1 % pred, absolute difference of FEV1 from predicted, and FEV1/FVC ratio. They were plotted to display the shape and strength of these relationships before and after adjustment for each other measure.

The odds of symptoms increased with declining levels of all FEV1 measures, particularly for wheeze and general breathing trouble. Although this study was not sufficiently powerful to detect significant differences between measures, these relationships were consistently strongest, before and after adjustment, for FEV1 % pred, particularly below a threshold of similar to75%.

The authors conclude that forced expiratory volume in one second % predicted appears to be the measure of airflow impairment most closely associated with chronic respiratory symptoms in the general population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)658-663
Number of pages6
JournalEuropean Respiratory Journal
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Apr-2003


  • lung function
  • respiratory symptoms
  • COPD

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