Lung disease tests are failing Black patients, studies show. Experts are calling for change.

9 mins read

Widely used lung function tests often fail to detect lung disease in Black patients, according to research — and experts are calling for new methods of testing.

Spirometry, the most common lung function test used by medical professionals, measures how much air a patient breathes into their lungs and how much they can exhale quickly.

The results are interpreted through equations that compare, or correct, results against average healthy values based on sex, height, age — and race. Previous studies found lower lung function in Black patients, leading to lower average reference values and “race corrections” in lung tests.

But increasingly, research shows differences based on race don’t reflect biology, but instead structural racism’s effect on health. Rather than accounting for inherent differences in lung function, “adjusting” for race instead normalizes poor lung health, prevents diagnosis and perpetuates health disparities and, experts say, the environmental factors that contribute to them.

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