11 March 2008

How Old is your Lung Function?

How Old is your Lung FunctionLung age can be measured by comparing a smoker's lungs to the age of a healthy person whose lungs function were the same.

A recent British study involved 561 long-term smokers over 35 who lived outside of London. Each volunteer underwent a spirometry test, a simple test to record the volume and rate at which the volunteers exhaled air from the lungs.

Half the group received no detailed information about their results. The other people were given their lung age, shown a diagram of how smoking ages the lungs and told that quitting would slow the rate of damage.

Everyone was strongly encouraged to quit and offered help to do so and both groups were told that their lung function would be measured again after 12 months to see if there had been any change.

One year later, saliva tests showed that 13.6 per cent of the smokers told their lung age had quit while only 6.4 per cent of people in the other group had stopped.

Gary Parkes, a family physician in Hertfordshire, who led the study published in the British Medical Journal, says the results suggest that the smokers were influenced by what they learned about their lungs.

"Anybody who had good, understandable information seemed more inclined to give up," Parkes said. "The reason may be people had dreaded the worst and realized it was still worthwhile giving up."

Dr. John Granton of the Ontario Lung Association says he suspects that personalizing the effects of smoking is the most effective way to convince smokers of the dangers of their habit.

"It seems to be a powerful message, to tell people how old their lung function is, and more importantly, to tell them if they stop, they may be successful in returning to normal lung decline," he said.

"If they view the lungs of someone else, they might think 'Oh that's not going to happen to me, I'm a pretty healthy person.' But it you make it real to them and say, 'This is your lung function and this is what is going to happen to you over time,' it does personalize it a fair bit and maybe it sends a more clear message."