Acute exacerbations and lung function loss in smokers with and without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Mark T. Dransfield, Ken M. Kunisaki, Matthew J. Strand, Antonio Anzueto, Surya P. Bhatt, Russell P. Bowler, Gerard J. Criner, Jeffrey L. Curtis, Nicola A. Hanania, Hrudaya Nath, Nirupama Putcha, Sarah E. Roark, Emily S. Wan, George R. Washko, J. Michael Wells, Christine H. Wendt, Barry J. Make

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

220 Scopus citations


Rationale: Acute exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) increase the risk of death and drive healthcare costs, but whether they accelerate loss of lung function remains controversial. Whether exacerbations in subjects with mild COPD or similar acute respiratory events in smokers without airflow obstruction affect lung function decline is unknown. Objectives: Todetermine the association between acute exacerbations ofCOPD(and acute respiratory events in smokerswithoutCOPD) and the change in lung function over 5 years of follow-up. Methods: We examined data on the first 2,000 subjects who returned for a second COPDGene visit 5 years after enrollment. Baseline data included demographics, smoking history, and computed tomography emphysema.Wedefined exacerbations (andacute respiratory events in those without established COPD) as acute respiratory symptoms requiring either antibiotics or systemic steroids, and severe events by the need for hospitalization. Throughout the 5-year follow-up period, we collected self-reported acute respiratory event data at 6-month intervals. We used linear mixed models to fit FEV1 decline based on reported exacerbations or acute respiratory events. Measurements and Main Results: In subjects with COPD, exacerbations were associated with excess FEV1 decline, with the greatest effect in Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease stage 1, where each exacerbation was associated with an additional 23 ml/yr decline (95% confidence interval, 2-44; P = 0.03), and each severe exacerbation with an additional 87 ml/yr decline (95% confidence interval, 23-151; P = 0.008); statistically significant but smaller effects were observed in Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease stage 2 and 3 subjects. In subjects without airflow obstruction, acute respiratory events were not associated with additional FEV1 decline. Conclusions: Exacerbations are associated with accelerated lung function loss in subjects with established COPD, particularly those with mild disease. Trials are needed to test existing and novel therapies in subjects with early/mild COPD to potentially reduce the risk of progressing to more advanced lung disease. Clinical trial registered with (NCT 00608764).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)324-330
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican journal of respiratory and critical care medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Feb 1 2017

Bibliographical note

co-primary authors MT Dransfield and KM Kunisaki


  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Exacerbations
  • Spirometry


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