Prevalence and risk factors for unrecognized obstructive lung disease among urban drug users

M. Bradley Drummond, Gregory D. Kirk, Jacquie Astemborski, Meredith C. McCormack, Mariah M. Marshall, Shruti H. Mehta, Robert A. Wise, Christian A. Merlo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Background: Obstructive lung disease (OLD) is frequently unrecognized and undertreated. Urban drug users are at higher risk for OLD due to race, behavioral, and socioeconomic characteristics, yet little data exist on prevalence and risk factors associated with unrecognized OLD in this population. Objective: The objective of this study is to determine the prevalence of unrecognized OLD in an urban population and identify the characteristics associated with lack of physician-diagnosed OLD. Design: Cross-sectional analysis from the Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome Linked to the Intravenous Experience (ALIVE) study, an observational study of current and former injection drug users in Baltimore, Maryland, USA. Participants: All participants with spirometry-defined airflow obstruction were stratified by the presence or absence of physician diagnosis of OLD. Main measures: Using cross-sectional demographic, clinical, and spirometric measurements, multivariable regression models were generated to identify factors independently associated with unrecognized OLD. Key results: Of the 1083 participants evaluated in the ALIVE lung substudy, 176 (16.3%) met spirometric criteria for OLD. Of those, only 88 (50%) had a physician diagnosis of OLD. The prevalence of unrecognized OLD decreased as severity of airflow obstruction increased. Factors independently associated with unrecognized OLD were absence of respiratory symptoms (prevalence ratio [PR], 1.70; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.29-2.23; P, 0.01) and less severe dyspnea (PR, 0.83; 95% CI: 0.72-0.96, per point increase in dyspnea scale; P = 0.01). In the subset of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-infected participants, the use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) was independently associated with an increased prevalence of unrecognized OLD (PR, 1.93; 95% CI: 1.05-3.56; P = 0.03). Conclusions: In a cohort of current and former urban drug users, OLD is substantially underrecognized and associated with lack of respiratory symptoms. Relying on the presence of respiratory symptoms as a trigger to perform spirometry may result in a substantial underdiagnosis of OLD in this population. HIV-infected individuals receiving ART are a population particularly vulnerable to unrecognized OLD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)89-95
Number of pages7
JournalInternational Journal of COPD
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011


  • Asthma
  • COPD
  • Human immunodeficiency virus infection
  • Obstructive lung disease
  • Spirometry

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Health Policy
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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