Change in pulmonary diffusion capacity in a general population sample over 9 years

ORIGINAL ARTICLE

Change in pulmonary diffusion capacity in a general population sample over 9 years

Michael L. Storebø1,2*, Tomas M. L. Eagan1,2, Geir E. Eide3,4, Amund Gulsvik2, Einar Thorsen2 and Per S. Bakke2

1Department of Thoracic Medicine, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway; 2Department of Clinical Science, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway; 3Centre for Clinical Research, Haukeland University Hospital, Bergen, Norway; 4Life Style Epidemiology Research Group, Department of Global Public Health and Primary Care, University of Bergen, Bergen, Norway

Abstract

Rationale: Data on the change in diffusion capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (DLCO) over time are limited. We aimed to examine change in DLCO (ΔDLCO) over a 9-year period and its predictors.

Methods: A Norwegian community sample comprising 1,152 subjects aged 18–73 years was examined in 1987 and 1988. Of the 1,109 subjects still alive, 830 (75%) were re-examined in 1996/97. DLCO was measured with the single breath-holding technique. Covariables recorded at baseline included sex, age, height, weight, smoking status, pack years, occupational exposure, educational level, and spirometry. Generalized estimating equations analyses were performed to examine relations between ΔDLCO and the covariables.

Results: At baseline, mean [standard deviation (SD)] DLCO was 10.8 (2.4) and 7.8 (1.6) mmol·min−1·kPa−1 in men and women, respectively. Mean (SD) ΔDLCO was −0.24 (1.31) mmol·min−1·kPa−1. ΔDLCO was negatively related to baseline age, DLCO, current smoking, and pack years, and positively related to forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) and weight. Sex, occupational exposure, and educational level were not related to ΔDLCO.

Conclusions: In a community sample, more rapid decline in DLCO during 9 years of observation time was related to higher age, baseline current smoking, more pack years, larger weight, and lower FEV1.

Keywords: diffusion capacity for carbon monoxide; longitudinal change; occupational exposure; socioeconomic status; smoking

Citation: European Clinical Respiratory Journal 2016, 3: 31265 - http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/ecrj.v3.31265

Responsible Editor: Charlotte S. Ulrik, Copenhagen, Denmark.

Copyright: © 2016 Michael L. Storebø et al. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, allowing third parties to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or format and to remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially, provided the original work is properly cited and states its license.

Received: 9 February 2016; Accepted: 28 July 2016; Published: 2 September 2016

Competing interests and funding: The authors have not received any funding or benefits from industry or elsewhere to conduct this study.

*Correspondence to: Michael L. Storebø, Department of Thoracic Medicine, Haukeland University Hospital, NO-5021 Bergen, Norway, Email: michael@mstorebo.no

To access the supplementary material for this article, please see Supplementary files under ‘Article Tools’

 

Diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide (DLCO) is the most widely used non-invasive test of pulmonary gas transfer (1). The test has been used in both clinical and epidemiological settings and in surveys of occupational groups (28). Several cross-sectional community studies have presented predictors for DLCO(917), and commonly used reference values are based on sex, age, and height. In some cross-sectional studies, smoking has been found to be associated with impaired DLCO, while body mass and socioeconomic status (SES) have been shown to be related to DLCO in some studies (14, 17). Only two community studies have been longitudinal in design, which is preferable to cross-sectional studies when studying change related to ageing (18, 19).

The two longitudinal studies were an 8-year follow-up study from Tucson, Arizona (18), including 543 subjects, and an 8-year follow-up study from Pisa, Italy, including 928 subjects (19). Both studies found that the decline in DLCO during the follow-up period increased with increasing age, while no relationship to smoking was noted. The latter is somewhat surprising as smoking is the major cause of emphysema, which is associated with impaired DLCO (20). A small cohort study of 84 subjects, followed for 22 years, has observed smoking to be a predictor for rapid decline of DLCO (21, 22). The representativity of this cohort to the population at large is uncertain.

The purpose of this study was to explore predictors for the longitudinal change in DLCO in a community sample examined twice 9 years apart. According to previous findings in cross-sectional studies of this population sample (17, 2326), we hypothesized that smoking habits, occupational airborne exposure, and SES were predictors of change in DLCO.

Methods

Study population

Details of the sampling and characterization of the study population have been given elsewhere (27, 28). Briefly, a stratified sample (n=1,512) from the general population in Hordaland, Norway, aged 18–73 years was invited to a clinical and respiratory physiological examination in 1987/88. Altogether 1,275 (84%) attended. DLCO measurements were obtained from 1,152 (90%) of the 1,275 attendees.

All attendees from visit 1 were invited to a follow-up (visit 2) in 1996/97. From the 1,152 subjects with DLCO measurements at visit 1, 881 (76%) attended visit 2. Of those lost to follow-up, 43 were dead, 81 no longer lived in the study area, 63 did not wish to participate further, and 23 could not attend because of serious illness. We were not able to establish contact with 61 of the visit 1 attendees. We obtained DLCO measurements from 830 (94%) of the visit 2 attendees.

Questionnaires

At visit 1, data on smoking habits, educational level, and occupational airborne exposure were obtained through self-reported questionnaires (23, 29). Smoking habit was categorized into never smoking, ex-smoking, and current smoking. Pack years was calculated as average number of cigarettes smoked per day, divided by twenty and multiplied by total number of years of being a smoker. SES was assessed in terms of educational level which was categorized into primary school, secondary school, and higher education (17).

Occupational airborne exposure was based on the following data: self-reported past or present occupational exposure to dust or gas (24) and self-reported exposure to specific agents and work processes (asbestos, quartz, wood dust, welding, and soldering) (27).

Clinical examination and pulmonary function testing

Clinical examination included measurements of height and weight. Blood samples were analyzed for hemoglobin (Hb) concentration and fraction of carboxyhemoglobin (HbCO). Pulmonary function testing (PFT), including DLCO, and forced spirometry were performed in accordance with current guidelines at the time of examination (1, 3032).

PFT at both visit 1 and visit 2 was performed using a SensorMedics Gould 2100 automated system (SensorMedics BV, Bilthoven, the Netherlands). The same instrument was used at both visits, with the same calibration procedure and biological control throughout the observation period by regular measurements of the technicians operating the instrument. Details of the standardization of measurements, calibration processes, and the results of repeated measurements in the biological controls are given in the Supplementary file. At both visits, DLCO, the alveolar volume (VA), and the ratio of DLCO to VA (KCO) were measured using the single breath-holding method, with a breath holding time of 10 seconds, a washout volume of 0.75 L, and a sample volume of 0.75 L. VA was measured by helium dilution. The test gas was delivered and certified by Norsk Hydro A/S (Rjukan, Norway). The concentration of carbon monoxide was requested to be within 0.270 and 0.330% with an accuracy of 1%. The concentration of helium was requested to be within 9 and 11% with an accuracy of 1%. The mean of two measurements, with no more than 10% variability, is reported. The ATS/ERS guidelines require the DLCO measurement to be performed after the subject had achieved an inspiratory vital capacity (IVC) of at least 85% of his or her forced vital capacity (FVC) (27). Only 531 subjects (64%) met this criterion on both visits, while 750 subjects (90%) achieved an IVC/FVC ratio of at least 0.7. Excluding the subjects with an IVC/FVC ratio of less than 0.85 did not alter the study results overtly as compared to including them in the analyses (Tables E1 and E2). Hence, the data are presented including all subjects with an IVC/FVC ratio>0.7. Predicted values for DLCO were calculated using the formula estimated by Cotes et al. (1). It was decided not to use Norwegian predicted values, as they are based on the population sample also used in this study.

Spirometry was performed as an inhalation from functional residual capacity to total lung capacity, followed by a maximal forced expiration to residual volume. For forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) and FVC, the highest value from three technically acceptable measurements, with variability between the two highest values within 300 mL, is reported. All subjects were shown how to perform the maneuvers before testing, using standardized instructions, for both forced spirometry and measurement of DLCO. Subjects were seated and wearing a nose-clip during all efforts. Reference values calculated from healthy Norwegian subjects were used for FEV1 (26).

Statistical methods

Descriptive statistics are presented using the mean and standard deviation (SD) for continuous variables and frequency and percentage for categorical variables. Comparisons of the study population and those lost to follow-up were performed using the independent samples t-test and the exact chi-squared test. Comparisons of means from baseline and follow-up were performed using paired samples t-test, testing for cohort effect was carried out using independent samples t-test, and modeling change in DLCO as a function of age was performed using curve estimation. Testing for normal distribution was performed using the Kolmogorov-Smirnov and the Shapiro-Wilk tests.

DLCO at first and follow-up survey 9 years later was analyzed in a multiple linear regression model and estimated with generalized estimating equations (GEE) to account for correlation between the two measures of DLCO in the same subject at the two surveys. In this model, time was given the values 0 and 9 (years), all other continuous explanatory variables were centered around their means, all categorical variables were represented by dummy variables, and all interactions between the explanatory variables (categorical and continuous) were included. From such a model, the estimated regression coefficients for the interactions give direct estimates of the average yearly change in DLCO from the first to the last visit (ΔDLCO) at the zero level for all explanatory variables (for continuous variables this is the mean value; for categorical variables it is the reference category), and for a value of 1 unit increase from 0 in each variable all others were fixed at 0. For the GEE estimation, an exchangeable correlation structure was assumed.

Models with adjustments for change in Hb and HbCO were also made. Finally, we decided a priori to test the following interactions: age versus sex, age versus smoking habits, and sex versus smoking habits. A significance level of 5% was used for all analyses.

SPSS version 20 (IBM Corporation, New York, USA) was used for all analyses except for the GEE estimation for which Stata version 12 (StataCorp, College Station, Texas, USA) was applied.

Results

Study population description

The characteristics of those examined at baseline and at follow-up and those lost to follow-up are outlined in Table 1. Almost half of the sample was ever-smokers, and approximately one quarter of the subjects was current smokers. Those who were lost to follow-up were significantly older and had significantly lower lung function than those who remained in the study.


Table 1.  Descriptive statistics for characteristics at baseline and follow-up of the stratified sample from the general population in Hordaland County, Norway, aged 18–73 years in 1987/88 with follow-up 9 years later
  Baseline Follow-up Lost to
follow-up
Variable n=1,152 n=830 n=322
Sex (male), n (%) 590 (51.2) 436 (52.5) 154 (47.8)
Age (years), mean (SD) 41.6 (16.0) 49.8 (14.4) 44.4 (19.3)
Height (cm), mean (SD) 171.8 (9.3) 172.1 (9.4) 170.1 (9.3)
Weight (kg), mean (SD) 71.4 (12.8) 75.9 (13.9) 69.7 (12.1)
Smoking habits, n (%)      
  Daily smokers 310 (26.9) 233 (24.7) 77 (23.9)
  Ex-smokers 207 (18.0) 149 (21.8) 58 (18.0)
  Never smokers 635 (55.1) 448 (53.5) 187 (58.1)
Pack years smoked,a mean (SD) 12.7 (11.1) 16.1 (12.3) 13.7 (14.1)
Occupational exposure, n (%) 337 (29.3) 259 (31.2) 78 (24.2)
Education level, n (%)      
  Primary school 213 (18.5) 133 (16.0) 80 (24.8)
  Secondary school 714 (62.0) 532 (64.1) 182 (56.5)
  Higher education 225 (19.5) 165 (19.9) 60 (18.6)
FEV1 (L), mean (SD) 3.60 (1.02) 3.28 (0.96) 3.33 (1.12)
FEV1 percent predicted, mean (SD) 95 (14) 92 (15) 92 (16)
DLCO (mmol·min−1·kPa−1), mean (SD) 9.37 (2.53) 9.35 (2.61) 8.81 (2.67)
DLCO percent predicted, mean (SD) 94 (15) 98 (18) 91 (17)
SD, standard deviation; FEV1, forced expiratory volume in 1 second; DLCO, diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide.
aNon-smokers excluded.

Analyses were performed to discover a cohort effect, if present, by comparing baseline FEV1 and DLCO values of those aged 40–44 years at baseline with the corresponding follow-up values of those aged 40–44 years at visit 2. Analyses were performed independently for men and women to adjust for difference in the ratio between the sexes in these sub-samples. There were no statistically significant differences in mean values of FEV1 and DLCO.

Baseline DLCO

Mean DLCO at baseline for the entire cohort (n=1,152) was 9.37 mmol·min−1·kPa−1 (SD: 2.53). Using multiple linear regression, we found that female sex, higher age, current smoking, ex-smoking, and increased pack years were associated with lower DLCO. Higher body height, larger weight, and higher FEV1 were significantly associated with higher baseline DLCO, as was higher education compared to secondary school. Occupational airborne exposure was not associated with baseline DLCO regardless of whether the exposure characterization was based on self-reported dust or gas or self-reported exposure to specific airborne agents (Table 2, and Tables E3 and E4).


Table 2.  Descriptive statistics for baseline DLCO in 1987/88 and average change per year during a 9-year follow-up, ΔDLCO, for 830 subjects from Hordaland County, Norway, according to baseline characteristics
Characteristics at baseline Baseline DLCO (mmol·min−1·kPa−1), mean (SD) ΔDLCO (mmol·min−1·kPa−1·year−1), mean (SD)
Sex    
  Male 10.85 (2.38) −0.039 (0.161)
  Female 7.83 (1.57) −0.010 (0.114)
Age in years    
  Up to 19 10.60 (2.39) 0.003 (0.158)
  20–29 10.88 (2.49) −0.021 (0.150)
  30–39 10.00 (2.20) 0.001 (0.129)
  40–49 9.45 (2.10) −0.037 (0.163)
  50–59 8.23 (2.01) −0.032 (0.134)
  60–69 7.54 (1.69) −0.072 (0.103)
  70–79 6.02 (1.46) −0.050 (0.122)
Height in cm    
  159 and below 6.55 (1.27) −0.023 (0.118)
  160–169 7.90 (1.61) −0.018 (0.103)
  170–179 9.93 (1.97) −0.030 (0.142)
  180–189 11.62 (2.31) −0.034 (0.192)
  190 and above 12.84 (2.16) −0.005 (0.154)
Weight in kg    
   − 49 6.08 (1.80) 0.001 (0.114)
  50–59 7.76 (1.64) −0.016 (0.111)
  60–69 8.83 (2.24) −0.026 (0.120)
  70–79 10.06 (2.54) −0.041 (0.156)
  80–89 10.48 (2.41) −0.001 (0.150)
  90–99 10.61 (2.44) −0.034 (0.207)
  100 10.78 (2.89) −0.049 (0.118)
Smoking habits    
  Never smoker 9.62 (2.62) −0.012 (0.144)
  Ex-smoker 9.20 (2.31) −0.037 (0.119)
  Daily smoker 8.99 (2.43) −0.044 (0.148)
Pack years smoked    
  0 9.62 (2.62) −0.012 (0.144)
  1–20 9.23 (2.40) −0.031 (0.136)
  21–40 8.75 (2.19) −0.080 (0.137)
   > 40 6.79 (1.92) −0.094 (0.125)
Occupational exposure    
  No 9.08 (2.32) −0.019 (0.138)
  Yes 10.12 (2.53) −0.029 (0.152)
Education level    
  Primary school 8.15 (2.22) −0.041 (0.131)
  Secondary school 9.43 (2.44) −0.023 (0.144)
  Higher education 10.37 (2.62) −0.020 (0.143)
FEV1 quartiles    
  2.89 L and below 6.87 (1.51) −0.031 (0.109)
  2.90–3.55 L 8.56 (1.27) −0.030 (0.125)
  3.56–4.36 L 9.95 (1.66) −0.014 (0.145)
  4.37 and above 12.20 (1.95) −0.029 (0.174)
DLCO, diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide; FEV1, forced expiratory volume in 1 second; SD, standard deviation.

Change in DLCO

Mean DLCO at follow-up (n=830) was 9.35 mmol·min−1·kPa−1 (SD: 2.61). Baseline DLCO for the same 830 participants was 9.59 mmol·min−1·kPa−1 (SD: 2.44). Mean ΔDLCO between baseline and follow-up for those who attended both visits was −0.24 mmol·min−1·kPa−1 (95% CI: −0.33 to −0.15).

Mean change in DLCO percent of predicted values for those subjects who attended both visits was 3.0% (95% CI: 2.3 to 4.1). Mean change in FEV1 percent of predicted values for the same subjects was −3.0% (95% CI −3.9 to −2.7).

ΔDLCO had a normal distribution, tested by both the Kolmogorov-Smirnov and the Shapiro-Wilk tests, with a large variation (Fig. 1). Approximately 40% had a decline of more than twice the average, while 5% had no change (0±0.10 mmol·min−1·kPa−1), and 38% had an increase (>0.10 mmol·min−1·kPa−1).

Fig 1

Fig. 1.   The distribution of change in DLCO during a 9-year follow-up from 1987/88 in 830 subjects from Hordaland County, Norway.

Univariate associations using GEE, adjusting only for baseline DLCO and change in Hb concentration and HbCO, were found for age, height, baseline FEV1, smoking habits, and pack years.

The multivariate analysis, including baseline DLCO, sex, age, baseline height, baseline weight, baseline FEV1, baseline smoking habits, pack years smoked before baseline, occupational exposure, and educational level, showed that higher baseline DLCO and age were associated with a more rapid decline in DLCO. Current smokers had a more rapid decline than never smokers, and increased pack years was associated with more rapid decline as well. Higher body height and weight, and higher FEV1 were associated with a lower rate of decline in DLCO. All the associations above persisted after adjusting for change in Hb and HbCO. Sex, occupational exposure to gas or dust, and level of education were not significantly associated with ΔDLCO in the multivariate analyses (Table 3).


Table 3.  Adjusted yearly change in DLCO estimated by generalized estimating equations (GEE) of the stratified sample from the general population in Hordaland County, Norway, aged 18–73 years in 1987/88 with follow-up 9 years later
Characteristic at baseline Estimate p
DLCO at baseline    
  At DLCO 9.6 −0.0293  
  Per 1 unit increase −0.0325 <0.0001
Age at baseline    
  At age 45 years −0.0293  
  Per 10 years increase −0.0243 <0.0001
Sex    
  Men −0.0293  
  Women −0.0162 0.410
Height at baseline    
  At 170 cm −0.0293  
  Per 10 cm increase (at baseline) 0.0240 0.013
Weight at baseline    
  At 70 kg −0.0293  
  Per 1 kg increase 0.0011 0.020
Smoking at baseline   0.001
  Never −0.0293  
  Ex −0.0238 0.700
  Current −0.0738 0.002
Pack years smoked before baseline    
  At 6 pack years −0.0293  
  Per 10 pack years increase −0.0196 0.003
Occupational exposure    
  No −0.0293  
  Yes 0.0146 0.177
Educational level   0.310
  Primary school −0.0293  
  Secondary school −0.0443 0.270
  Higher education −0.0304 0.947
FEV1 at baseline    
  At FEV1 3.6 L −0.0293  
  Per 1 L increase 0.0235 0.013
DLCO, diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide in mmol·min−1·kpa−1; FEV1, forced expiratory volume in 1 second.

We found no interactions between age and sex, age and smoking habits, or sex and smoking habits on change in DLCO.

Mean alveolar volume (VA) was 6.49 L (SD: 1.30) at baseline and 6.29 L (SD: 1.38) at follow-up. There was a significant reduction in VA during the observation period. In a multivariate analysis, higher baseline VA and female sex were significant predictors of a more rapid decline in VA (Table E5).

Mean carbon monoxide diffusion coefficient (KCO) at baseline was 1.48 mmol·min−1·kPa−1·L−1 (SD: 0.25) and 1.49 mmol·min−1·kPa−1·L−1 (SD: 0.32) at follow-up. When analyzing the values from only the participants who met the requirement of an IVC/FVC ratio of 0.85 or above, the corresponding means were 1.45 mmol·min−1·kPa−1·L−1 (SD: 0.24) and 1.46 mmol·min−1·kPa−1·L−1 (SD: 0.28), respectively. When analyzed in a multivariate model, we found that higher baseline KCO, male sex, higher age, lower baseline body weight, current smoking, higher number of pack years smoked, and lower level of education were significant predictors of a more rapid decline in KCO (Table E6).

Discussion

In this 9-year follow-up study of a general population sample, we observed that the rate of decline in gas diffusion capacity was highly variable. Mean change in DLCO was −0.025 mmol·min−1·kPa−1·year−1. Current smoking was the strongest predictor for decline in DLCO. In addition, older age, higher cumulative smoking consumption in terms of pack years, lower level of FEV1, lower body weight, and shorter body height were independent predictors of increased DLCO loss. Sex, educational level, and occupational airborne exposure did not independently influence change in DLCO.

This is the first community study to show that current smoking status and previous smoking consumption in terms of pack years predict loss of DLCO. The study is also the first to examine the effect of educational level and occupational airborne exposure on change in gas diffusion capacity. Our study confirms the findings of others (18, 19) that the decline in DLCO becomes more rapid with higher age.

The magnitude of the decline in DLCO observed in our study is comparable to that found by Viegi et al. (19), while comparison to the decline found by Sherrill et al. (18) is more complicated because of differences in how the results are reported. Standard error of the mean of DLCO seems to be comparable between all three studies.

Current smoking was related to a reduced baseline DLCO and a larger subsequent decline in DLCO in the multivariate analyses. Adjusting for HbCO did not change this association. Hence, current smoking has an effect on level and decline of DLCO beyond that of previous exposure and that of HbCO. Smokers more often develop anemia that may impair gas diffusion (33). However, when change in Hb was added to the equation, the relationship between smoking and DLCO persisted. The study was not designed to investigate mechanisms by which tobacco smoke could alter the rate of change in DLCO.

Cumulative smoking exposure in terms of pack years was also an independent predictor of future decline in DLCO (Table 3). There may be several explanations for this finding. First, smoking exposure may cause airflow limitation and air trapping that lead to impaired gas diffusion capacity. However, the effect of pack years on DLCO decline persisted after taking baseline FEV1 into account (Table 3). Second, we have recently shown in another data set that level of emphysema is related to DLCO after adjusting for FEV1(34). Hence, increased smoking consumption may cause decline in DLCO because of more emphysema.

Neither the Italian nor the American community study observed that current smoking or smoking consumption was related to decline in DLCO (18, 19). The follow-up rate in the Italian study was lower than that in the current study, and smokers tend to drop out more often than non-smokers in longitudinal surveys (35). The American study comprised only about half the number of subjects of our study and they had no subjects above the age of 59 years at baseline (18).

In line with others (18, 19), we observed that the DLCO decline becomes more rapid with increasing age. The best fit of the model was for age squared, adding further support to our finding that the decline accelerated with increasing age. In the multivariate analysis, this acceleration in the decline with increasing age was found to be independent of smoking, lung function, body height and weight, as well as occupational exposure and SES. Potential explanations might be age-related reduced alveolar ventilation, increased level of emphysema, increased pulmonary blood pressure, and impaired cardiac function (36).

When comparing DLCO with available European predicted values, we observed an increase in the percent predicted value while there was a decrease in the absolute value. These predicted values were based on a compilation of European cross-sectional studies, and the age coefficient may be overestimated because of a cohort effect and less precise characterization of the subjects with respect to symptoms, previous smoking, and occupational exposure. As for FEV1, the annual change in longitudinal studies is less than the estimated annual change from cross-sectional surveys.

The difference between cross-sectional and longitudinal estimates of annual change may also be influenced by regression to the mean. We included baseline DLCO in the model which will partially account for that phenomenon.

We did not observe that occupational airborne exposure influenced level of DLCO or decline of DLCO in this general population sample. This may imply that there is no impact of occupational exposure on gas diffusion capacity in a community setting, or that we have not been able to show it. Regarding the latter possibility, the exposure characterization applied in the present study has been used to show a relationship between lung function in terms of spirometry (27, 37), diagnosis of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (27, 38), as well as the prevalence and incidence of respiratory symptoms (24, 38). The exposure data have a high specificity, but a lower sensitivity (29). Those stating exposure have in general been exposed to a higher degree than those falsely stating no exposure (29). Hence, we think that our study indicates that the level of occupational exposure in a general population sample is not high enough to cause impaired level of DLCO and more rapid decline in DLCO.

We have previously shown in cross-sectional analyses in this population that lower SES in terms of educational achievement is independently related to reduced level of DLCO (17). However, we did not observe that SES predicted subsequent change in DLCO after adjusting for the other covariates. As people tend to stay in the socioeconomic class into which they are born, the effect of SES on DLCO may have been evident at an early stage in life after which the subsequent decline in DLCO is independent of SES. However, it should be noted that low as compared to high SES was an independent predictor of rapid decline in KCO (Table E6).

Strengths and limitations of the study

This study is based on a community survey with high response rates both at baseline and follow-up. The study sample is representative of the population at large with respect to sex, age, and smoking (25, 35). Except for the requirement of an IVC/FVC ratio above 0.85, the participants included in the analyses met the ATS-criteria for a satisfactory DLCO test (28). The same equipment for measuring DLCO was used at baseline and follow-up with the same technicians. The effect of smoking on change in DLCO was adjusted for by change in HbCO, and finally validated questions on occupational exposure were used.

There are also some limitations to the study. First, we had only two points of observations, rendering the study susceptible to regression towards the mean. On the other hand, we adjusted for baseline level of DLCO, which should at least partly take this bias into account. Second, we did not have data on menstrual cycle for female participants, and are therefore not able to adjust for the effects of the menstrual cycle on DLCO(3941).

In conclusion, we have observed that in the population at large both current smoking and cumulative smoking exposure, reduced FEV1, and increasing age predict more rapid decline in gas diffusion capacity, while occupational exposure and SES do not. This knowledge may help physicians in their interpretation of DLCO measurements.

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About The Authors

Michael L. Storebø

Norway

Tomas M.L. Eagan

Norway

Geir E. Eide

Norway

Amund Gulsvik

Norway

Einar Thorsen

Norway

Per S. Bakke

Norway

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