Acute lower respiratory tract infections: Symptoms, findings and management in Danish general practice

Background: Acute lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) are among the most common infections managed in general practice.

Objectives: To describe differences in reported symptoms, findings and management of patients diagnosed with acute LRTIs, and to explore possible associations between these findings and being diagnosed with pneumonia.

Methods: During one winter season (2017 or 2018), a prospective registration of patients diagnosed with either acute bronchitis (ICPC-2: R78) or pneumonia (ICPC-2: R81) was conducted in Danish general practice for 20 days. A 42 item registration chart was filled in for each patient. Descriptive statistics, Pearson's chi-square test and multiple logistic regressions were used for data analysis.

Results: In total, 70 general practices participated with 1384 patients registered. Patients diagnosed with pneumonia were more often reported as having a fever, dyspnoea, increased purulent sputum, abnormal pulmonary auscultation/chest retractions, and were more often assessed as unwell by the healthcare professional, than those diagnosed with acute bronchitis. Very few patients had a chest X-ray. Contrary, most patients had a C-reactive protein (CRP) test performed (pneumonia: 83%; acute bronchitis: 71%). Respectively, 93% and 20% of patients were treated with antibiotics. Having a fever, an abnormal pulmonary auscultation/chest retractions or being assessed as unwell increased the likelihood of the diagnosis pneumonia at least fivefold. Even a slightly elevated CRP (≥11 mg/L) was positively associated with being diagnosed with pneumonia.

Conclusion: Danish healthcare professionals are highly influenced by symptoms, signs and CRP tests when diagnosing patients with acute LRTIs in general practice.