BACKGROUND: While peak in- and expiratory flow rates offer valuable information for diagnosis and monitoring in respiratory disease, these indices are usually considered too variable to be routinely used for quantification in clinical practice.
OBJECTIVES: The aim of the study was to obtain reproducible measurements of maximal inspiratory flow rates and to construct reference equations for peak in- and expiratory flows (PIF and PEF).
METHOD: With coaching for maximal effort, 187 healthy Caucasian subjects (20-80 years) performed at least 3 combined forced inspiratory and expiratory manoeuvres, until at least 2 peak inspiratory flow measurements were within 10% of each other. The effect on PIF preceded by a slow expiration instead of a forced expiration and PIF repeatability over 3 different days was also investigated in subgroups. Reference values and limits of normal for PIF, mid-inspiratory flow, and PEF were obtained according to the Lambda-Mu-Sigma statistical method.
RESULTS: A valid PIF could be obtained within 3.3 ± 0.6(SD) attempts, resulting in an overall within-test PIF variability of 4.6 ± 3.2(SD)%. A slow instead of a forced expiration prior to forced inspiration resulted in a significant (p < 0.001) but small PIF increase (2.5% on average). Intraclass correlation coefficient for between-day PIF was 0.981 (95% CI: 0.960-0.992). Over the entire age range, inter-subject PIF variability was smaller than in previous reports, and PIF could be predicted based on its determinants gender, age, and height (r2 = 0.53).
CONCLUSIONS: When adhering to similar criteria for the measurement of effort-dependent portions of inspiratory and expiratory flow-volume curves, performed according to current ATS/ERS standards, it is possible to obtain reproducible PIF and PEF values for use in routine clinical practice.