Prevalence and correlates of a ‘knee’ pattern on the maximal expiratory flow-volume loop in young adults
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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Visual inspection of the maximal flow-volume curve is an important step in interpreting spirometry. Many young people have a convex inflection or 'knee' on the expiratory part of the loop. This is thought to be a normal variant, but this view is based on theoretical grounds, and the epidemiology of the knee pattern has never been reported. METHODS: Flow-volume loops from an unselected birth cohort of 1037 individuals at ages 18, 26, 32 and 38 years were visually inspected for a knee pattern. Associations with asthma diagnoses, smoking history, body mass index (BMI) and spirometry were assessed. RESULTS: The knee pattern was found in approximately two thirds of men and women at age 18. The prevalence decreased with age, but it was more likely to persist in women. The knee was more common after bronchodilator and was associated with higher forced expiratory volume in 1 s/forced vital capacity ratios and mid-expiratory flow rates. There was no association with smoking, except for an inverse correlation in men at age 18. No association was found with BMI. Women with asthma were less likely to have a knee at both ages 18 and 38, whereas men with asthma showed an inverse association at age 18. CONCLUSIONS: A knee is a very common pattern on flow-volume loop in young adults. In accordance with theoretical predictions, the prevalence of the knee declines with age, but it is more likely to persist in women. It is associated with less airflow obstruction and is less common in people with asthma.
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