A concomitant decrease in FEV1 and FVC with normal FEV1/FVC ratio and TLC defines small airways obstructive pattern (SAOP) and constitutes a classic pitfall of pulmonary-function-tests interpretation.


To evaluate the prevalence of flow- (FEV1 increase≥12% and 200 mL), volume- (FVC or inspiratory capacity [IC] increase≥12% and 200 mL), flow and volume-, and non-response to bronchodilation in patients with SAOP. An additional objective was to assess whether impulse oscillometry (IOS) parameters allow the diagnosis of SAOP and its reversibility.


Fifty consecutive adult patients with SAOP (FEV1 and FVC < lower limit of normal, FEV1/FVC and TLC > lower limit of normal) diagnosed on spirometry and plethysmography underwent the assessment of reversibility (400 µg salbutamol) on FEV1, FVC, IC and IOS parameters.


The diseases most frequently associated with SAOP were COPD and asthma (26 and 15 patients, respectively). Six patients were flow-responders, 20 were volume-responders, 9 were flow and volume-responders and 15 patients were non-responders. Overall, 26 patients had a significant improvement of IC, and 35 / 50 (70%, 95%CI: 57-83) exhibited a significant bronchodilator response. The difference between Rrs5Hz and Rrs20Hz was increased in 28/50 patients (56%, 95%CI: 42-70 with value higher than upper limit of normal) and its decrease after bronchodilator significantly correlated to FEV1 increase only, suggesting proximal airway assessment.


A significant reversibility, mainly assessed on IC increase, is frequent in Small Airways Obstructive Pattern. Impulse oscillometry is of limited value in this context because of its low sensitivity.

Keywords: Pulmonary function testing, Bronchodilator response, Impulse oscillometry, Obstructive defect, Inspiratory capacity, Distal airways.
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