Improving differential diagnosis of vocal cord dysfunction




Bernstein, Sarah Mae

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Purpose: The purpose of this study was to assess whether the factors historically presented in the literature to differentiate vocal cord dysfunction (VCD) from breathing difficulties of other etiologies accurately predict and identify patients who have VCD. The researchers were also interested in whether patients with VCD have a higher risk of misdiagnosis than patients with breathing difficulties of other etiologies. Finally, the present study investigated whether patients with VCD were more likely to have their symptoms attributed to psychological factors than patients with breathing difficulties of other etiologies. Method: A survey comprised of 23 questions regarding the participants’ previous and current diagnoses, triggers that precede breathing difficulty, and whether or not the participants have ever been misdiagnosed was posted to internet support groups, websites, blogs, and forums. The final participant pool included 20 participants with VCD and 25 participants with asthma.
Results: None of the factors investigated accurately differentiated participants with asthma from participants with VCD one hundred percent of the time. However, participants with VCD were more likely to report throat tightness during an attack, association of an attack with symptoms of acid reflux, and rapid resolution of symptoms without treatment. Conversely, participants with asthma were more likely to report expiratory stridor and chest tightness, full resolution of symptoms with use of asthma medications, nocturnal symptoms or symptoms just after waking, and symptoms that seemed to be triggered by environmental agents or allergens. Preliminary findings from the present study suggest that patients with VCD are both more likely to receive a misdiagnosis and have their symptoms attributed to psychological factors than participants with asthma. Conclusion: A diagnosis of VCD must be made very carefully, ideally with instrumental evaluation of the vocal mechanism during an acute “attack” of breathing difficulty. The factors identified in the literature to differentially diagnose patients with asthma from patients with VCD do not accurately differentiate these populations. These findings suggest that continued education about the nature of VCD and differential diagnosis should be paramount to medical professionals.



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