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The precision of longitudinal lung function measurements: monitoring and interpretation
  1. E Hnizdo1,
  2. L Yu2,
  3. L Freyder3,
  4. M Attfield1,
  5. J Lefante4,
  6. H W Glindmeyer3
  1. 1Division of Respiratory Disease Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Morgantown, WV, USA
  2. 2Constella Health Sciences, Morgantown, WV, USA
  3. 3Section of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Environmental Medicine, Department of Medicine, Tulane Medical School, New Orleans, LA, USA
  4. 4Department of Biostatistics, Tulane School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, New Orleans, LA, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr E Hnizdo
 Division of Respiratory Disease Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 1095 Willowdale Road, Morgantown, WV 26505;


Background: The efficacy of decision making based on longitudinal spirometric measurements depends critically on the precision of the available data, which is determined by the magnitude of the within-person variation.

Aims: Firstly, to describe and investigate two statistical methods—a pairwise estimate of within-person standard deviation sp and the reliability coefficient G—for use in the monitoring of precision of longitudinal measurements of forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1). Secondly, to investigate the effect of longitudinal data precision on the detectable excess rate of decline in FEV1.

Methods: The authors “monitored” retrospectively on a yearly basis the magnitude of the within-person variation sp and the coefficient G in 11 workplace based spirometric monitoring programmes conducted from 1987 to 2001 on 12 729 workers in various industrial plants.

Results: The plant-specific mean values s̄p (range 122–166 ml) and Ḡ (range 0.88–0.95), averaged over all years of follow up, correlated well with the plant-specific within-person standard deviation sr (range 130–177 ml) estimated from all longitudinal data. The correlations were 0.90 for s̄p and 0.68 for Ḡ. The average precision of the longitudinal FEV1 measurements affected the duration of follow up needed to identify a “true” excess rate of decline in FEV1 in an individual.

Conclusions: The results show that monitoring of longitudinal spirometry data precision (1) allows that data precision can be improved or maintained at levels that allow individuals with a rapid decline to be identified at an earlier age; and (2) attaches a measure of precision to the data on which decision making is based.

  • ATS, American Thoracic Society
  • COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • FEV1, forced expiratory volume in one second
  • FVC, forced vital capacity
  • LLNR, lower limit of normal for the regression line
  • spirometry screening
  • longitudinal spirometry
  • spirometry monitoring
  • the coefficient of reliability

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