Prevalence and correlates of respiratory symptoms and disease in the elderly

P. L. Enright, R. A. Kronmal, M. W. Higgins, Marc B Schenker, E. F. Haponik

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

124 Scopus citations


Spirometry was performed by 5,201 elderly participants of the Cardiovascular Health Study during their baseline examination and a subset of the ATS/DLD-78 respiratory questionnaire was administered by trained interviewers. In never smokers (46 percent of the cohort), the overall prevalence of chronic cough was 9 percent, chronic phlegm was 13 percent, attacks of wheezing with dyspnea were 8 percent, and grade 3 dyspnea on exertion was 10 percent. The prevalence of lung disease in current smokers (12 percent of the cohort) was 8/7 percent (men/women) with chronic bronchitis and 14/5 percent with emphysema. Overall, 6 percent reported asthma (a physician-confirmed history) and 12 percent reported hay fever. Using a logistic regression model, attacks of wheezing with dyspnea were strongly associated with a lower FEV1, coronary heart disease, heart failure, and a large waist size (in participants without a diagnosis of asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema). Undiagnosed airways obstruction was twice as likely in women and those with lower income, and was associated with current and former smoking, pack-years of smoking, and chronic cough. Dyspnea on exertion (DOE) was three times or more likely if a participant reported heart failure, coronary heart disease, or emphysema; and much more likely if their FEV1 or FVC was substantially reduced. Dyspnea on exertion was also positively associated with older age, chronic bronchitis or asthma, a larger waist or hip size, pack-years of smoking, and less education. We conclude that DOE and attacks of wheezing with dyspnea are commonly associated with cardiovascular disease and a low FEV1 in those over 65 years and that airways obstruction frequently remains undiagnosed in the elderly.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)827-834
Number of pages8
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1994
Externally publishedYes


  • abnormality rates
  • elderly
  • respiratory symptoms

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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