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Can Respir J. 2010 Sep-Oct;17(5):224-8.

Does the methacholine test reproduce symptoms?

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Department of Chest Medicine, Sacré-Coeur Hospital, Université de Montréal, Montréal, Québec.



The interpretation of methacholine test results do not usually consider the symptoms for which the subject was referred and those that occur during the test.


To assess the association between methacholine test results and symptoms, and to examine variables that may affect this association. METHODS A total of 400 prospectively chosen subjects who underwent methacholine testing for possible asthma were investigated. The subjects answered a short questionnaire regarding the symptoms for which they had been referred and those that were encountered during the methacholine test.


The positive predictive value for the reproduction of symptoms during the test compared with symptoms for which subjects had been referred were 84% for dyspnea, 87% for cough, 81% for wheezing and 72% for chest tightness. The positive predictive value among the values obtained by measuring the provocative concentration of methacholine causing a 20% fall (PC20) in forced expiratory volume in 1 s on the one hand, and specific symptoms on the other, varied by up to approximately 50%; negative predictive values were higher. Forty-eight per cent of subjects with a PC20 of 16 mg⁄mL or lower reported that the test had globally reproduced their symptoms. This association was significantly stronger in women, young subjects and those taking inhaled steroids.


The methacholine test generally reproduced the symptoms for which the subjects were referred. The absence of a specific symptom (eg, dyspnea, cough, wheezing or chest tightness), either in daily life or at the time of methacholine testing, was more generally associated with a negative test than the reverse. The global impression that the test had reproduced what the patient had experienced in daily life was significantly associated with a positive test (ie, a PC20 of 16 mg⁄mL or lower), with the association being stronger in young subjects and women.

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