Interpreting small differences in functional status: the Six Minute Walk test in chronic lung disease patients.
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Functional status measurements are often difficult to interpret because small differences may be statistically significant but not clinically significant. How much does the Six Minute Walk test (6MW) need to differ to signify a noticeable difference in walking ability for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)? We studied individuals with stable COPD (n = 112, mean age = 67 yr, mean FEV1 = 975 ml) and estimated the smallest difference in 6MW distances that was associated with a noticeable difference in patients' subjective comparison ratings of their walking ability. We found that the 6MW was significantly correlated with patients' ratings of their walking ability relative to other patients (r = 0.59, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.54 to 0.63). Distances needed to differ by 54 m for the average patient to stop rating themselves as "about the same" and start rating themselves as either "a little bit better" or "a little bit worse" (95% CI: 37 to 71 m). We suggest that differences in functional status can be statistically significant but below the threshold at which patients notice a difference in themselves relative to others; an awareness of the smallest difference in walking distance that is noticeable to patients may help clinicians interpret the effectiveness of symptomatic treatments for COPD.
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