Studies: Testing of Smoker Lungs Largely Inadequate, Leading to Undiagnosed Patients

A pair of recent studies have found smoking to be even more insidious than initially thought, its damaging effects masked despite tests meant to identify lung damage and other irregularities. The New York Times on Monday dove into both, each of which are attempting to chip away at what one calls the “Myth of the Health Smoker.”

The studies show that a standard spirometer test—which involves testing lung capacity by measuring how much air a patient can take in and exhale—may not always catch C.O.P.D., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Some doctors don’t automatically perform the test upon smokers, the studies found. And when they do, it can sometimes overlook “serious lung abnormalities” that lead to chronic cough, exhaustion, and infection.

One of the studies as published in JAMA Internal Medicine while the other ran in The New England Journal of Medicine, two of the nation’s most respected medical journals. They found that the diagnoses of COPD is likely well below reality and that smokers who think they have no major lung damage may still have signs that point to it that go undiagnosed. And, as always, the main tenet of the studies is that men and women should go ahead and quit—and once they do so, continue to get periodic tests to locate progressive damage should it arise.


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