Spirometry or Body Plethysmography for the Assessment of Bronchial Hyperresponsiveness?

  • R. MergetEmail author
  • F. Nensa
  • E. Heinze
  • D. Taeger
  • T. Bruening
Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 921)


Methacholine testing is one of the standard tools for the diagnosis of mild asthma, but there is little information about optimal outcome measures. In this study a total of 395 college students were tested by the ATS dosimeter protocol for methacholine testing, with minor modification. Body plethysmography and spirometry were measured after each inhalation step. The end-of-test-criteria were (i) decrease in forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) of ≥ 20 % and (ii) doubling of specific airway resistance and its increase to ≥ 2.0 kPa∙s. The results were expressed by receiver operating characteristic (ROC) plots using questionnaire answers as a reference. The areas under the ROC curves were iteratively calculated for a wide range of thresholds for both measures. We found that ROC plots showed maximal sensitivities of about 0.5–0.6 for FEV1 and about 0.7 for specific airway conductance (sGt), with similar specificities of about 0.7–0.8 taking questions with the known high specificity as references. Accordingly, larger maximal areas under the ROC curve were observed for body plethysmography, but the differences were small. A decrease in FEV1 of about 15 % and a decrease of sGt of about 60 % showed the largest areas under the ROC curves. In conclusion, body plethysmography yielded better sensitivity than spirometry, with similar specificity. However, replacing the common spirometric criterium for a positive test (20 % decrease in FEV1 from baseline) by the optimal body plethysmographic criterium would result in an increase of false positive tests from about 4 to 8 % in healthy young adults.


Body plethysmography Bronchial hyperresponsiveness Dosimeter Methacholine Spirometry 


Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest in relation to this study.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • R. Merget
    • 1
    Email author
  • F. Nensa
    • 1
  • E. Heinze
    • 1
  • D. Taeger
    • 1
  • T. Bruening
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine of the German Social Accident Insurance, Institute of the Ruhr UniversityBochum (IPA)Germany

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