New research shows that recurring symptoms of COPD (chronic obstructive lung disease) leads to progression of the disease from declining lung function, which may not return to baseline.
The results of the study, which appear in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, show that worsening of COPD symptoms are dangerous to patients affected with the lung disease. Every time symptoms become worse, lung function declines, increasing the risk of complications from COPD.
The research shows that when symptoms of COPD create sudden breathing problems requiring intervention, patients may never fully recover their previous state of lung function. Recurrences of breathing problems tend to become more severe with each episode.
Most importantly, the study showed there is a crucial time for physicians to intervene with patients. The researchers found an eight-week period during which follow-up and close monitoring for recurring COPD symptoms is crucial.
Author John Hurst, M.D., of the Royal Free and University College Medical School, in London says, "Our finding of a high-risk period for recurrent exacerbation may be important in guiding patient follow-up. The mechanisms of exacerbation recurrence [of COPD] remain unexplored, and it is unknown whether recurrence is due to persistence of an existing organism or to acquisition of a new one." Other possibilities that may drive COPD symptoms include increased inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP) during the recovery period.
Recurring or worsening symptoms of chronic lung disease include shortness of breath, increased sputum production, and changes in sputum color.
The researchers analyzed data from the diaries of 297 patients with COPD to find that within an eight-week period, symptoms were more likely to recur. They also found that COPD exacerbations are worse in winter months. Isolated COPD symptoms were like to be twenty-five percent more severe when compared to a series of exacerbations.
COPD develops from smoking, over a period of time. Asthma sufferers have twelve times the risk of developing COPD. Approximately 16.4 million Americans suffer from COPD according to the American Lung Association. Two components of lung disease constitute a diagnosis of COPD - emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Seventy-five percent of deaths from COPD are directly related to smoking tobacco, according to the World Health Organization.(1)
The study highlights the importance of physician follow-up for anyone suffering from lung disease. Close monitoring after symptoms of dyspnea and cough worsen, then improve, especially within an eight-week period, may lead to improved outcomes for patients with chronic lung disease.
Source: Am. J. Respir. Crit. Care Med..2009; 179: 335-336