People who develop chronic cough and phlegm are at significantly higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, researchers say. COPD, the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, is a combination of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The main cause of COPD is smoking.
In a study published in the Jan. 1 issue of The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, researchers followed young adults for 10 years to investigate factors that may predict COPD. Isa Cerveri, of the Division of Respiratory Diseases at San Matteo Hospital and University of Pavia in Italy, and colleagues recruited a group of young adults aged 20 to 44 who had normal lung function when the study began.The participants had lung function tests and blood workups at the beginning and end of the study, and the researchers investigated how factors such as age, sex, education, smoking habits, breathlessness, the development of chronic cough and phlegm influenced the risk of COPD.Of the more than 5,000 participants, 123 were diagnosed with COPD during the study. The participants who developed chronic cough and phlegm had a fourfold higher risk of developing COPD."Our results show that the presence of chronic cough and phlegm is not an innocent symptom, but is an early marker of airflow obstruction," Cerveri said in a prepared statement.The study also underscored the importance of smoking prevention and cessation in preventing COPD. Among the study group, 77 percent of the 123 participants who developed COPD were smokers, while about 55 percent of the entire study group were smokers.In an editorial that accompanied the study, Jorgen Vestbo, of Hvidovre University Hospital in Denmark and the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, said the study "indicates that the statement '15 percent of smokers will develop COPD' is wrong and that lifetime risk of COPD in smokers is significantly higher, probably about 35 to 50 percent."(Source: The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine : San Matteo Hospital and University of Pavia : January 2007.)