Background: Among Indigenous Australians, studies examining the clinical significance of airway bronchodilator responsiveness (BDR) are limited. In this retrospective study, we examined the nature of underlying lung disease in adult Indigenous patients with BDR referred for lung function testing (LFT) in the Top End Health Service region of the Northern Territory of Australia.
Methods: Presence or absence of BDR as per usual (FVC or FEV1 change pre to post ≥12% and ≥0.2L) and updated (2021 “>10% predicted) ATS/ERS criteria among Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians was determined. The radiological findings in the Indigenous study participants with and without BDR were next assessed for the presence of underlying chronic airway/lung disease.
Results: We found that 123/742 (17%) Indigenous and 578/4579 (13%) non-Indigenous patients had a significant BDR. Indigenous patients with BDR were younger (mean difference 7 years), with a greater proportion of females (52 vs 32%), underweight (15 vs 4%) and current smokers (52 vs 25%). Indigenous patients with BDR displayed lower LFT values, and a higher proportion exhibited FVC BDR compared to non-Indigenous (34 vs 20%). Almost half (46%) of Indigenous patients with BDR had evidence of COPD and/or bronchiectasis on radiology. Adjusting for the presence of radiologic or spirometric evidence of COPD, the presence of BDR was similar between Indigenous and non-Indigenous patients (5–8 vs 7–11%), irrespective of which BDR criteria was used.
Conclusion: BDR was higher overall among Indigenous in comparison to non-Indigenous patients; however, a significant proportion of Indigenous patients demonstrating BDR had evidence of underlying COPD/bronchiectasis. This study highlights that although presence of BDR among Indigenous people may indicate asthma, it may also be observed among patients with COPD/bronchiectasis or could represent asthma/COPD/bronchiectasis overlap. Hence, a combination of clinical history, LFT and radiology should be considered for precise diagnosis of lung disease in this population.