1 in 9 Young Adults at Risk for COPD
Smoking Linked to Rising Rates of Lung Disease
Jan. 28, 2004 -- As many as one in nine young adults living in
industrialized countries is at risk for developing a deadly lung condition
known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
A new study shows that initial symptoms of chronic obstructive
pulmonary disease or COPD, such as persistent cough and phlegm, develop much
earlier than is usually thought, and a growing number of young adults may
already be on their way to developing irreversible COPD later in life.
COPD is an umbrella term that describes a progressive reduction
of airflow in and out of the lungs caused by bronchitis and emphysema. Smoking
is the major cause of the disease.
COPD Symptoms Start Early
Researchers say the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive
Lung Disease (GOLD) criteria stages COPD from mild (stage I) to severe (stage
IV). But they also describe a preclinical stage of COPD (stage 0) that can be
used to identify people at greatest risk of developing the disease in their 50s
and 60s, which is when it is most often diagnosed.
In this study, published in the current issue of Thorax,
researchers surveyed more than 18,000 adults aged 20-44 in Europe, the U.S.,
Scandinavia, Australia, and New Zealand about early COPD symptoms.
They found about 4% fell into COPD stages I-IV based on their
reported symptoms. But nearly 12% were classified as stage 0 or at risk for
COPD in later life.
The number of young adults who were at risk for COPD varied
greatly by country, from a low of 7% in Australia to almost 24% in Spain.
People who were in stages 0-III also shared some common
characteristics. They were more likely to:
- Be moderate to heavy smokers
- Have been exposed to greater levels of noxious fumes or dust at work
- Have had more respiratory infections during childhood
- Be poorer than those with healthy lungs
- Use health-care services more frequently
Researchers say the finding shows that a considerable portion
of young adults already suffer from COPD symptoms, and those at stage 0 had the
same risk factors as those in later stages of the irreversible disease.