Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is defined as a disease state characterized by airflow limitation that is not fully reversible (http://www.goldcopd.com/). COPD includes emphysema, an anatomically defined condition characterized by destruction and enlargement of the lung alveoli; chronic bronchitis, a clinically defined condition with chronic cough and phlegm; and small airways disease, a condition in which small bronchioles are narrowed. COPD is present only if chronic airflow obstruction occurs; chronic bronchitis without chronic airflow obstruction is not included within COPD.
COPD is the fourth leading cause of death and affects >10 million persons in the United States. COPD is also a disease of increasing public health importance around the world. Estimates suggest that COPD will rise from the sixth to the third most common cause of death worldwide by 2020.
By 1964, the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the United States had concluded that cigarette smoking was a major risk factor for mortality from chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Subsequent longitudinal studies have shown accelerated decline in the volume of air exhaled within the first second of the forced expiratory maneuver (FEV1) in a dose-response relationship to the intensity of cigarette smoking, which is typically expressed as pack-years (average number of packs of cigarettes smoked per day multiplied by the total number of years of smoking). This dose-response relationship between reduced pulmonary function and cigarette smoking intensity accounts for the higher prevalence rates for COPD with increasing age. The historically higher rate of smoking among males is the likely explanation for the higher prevalence of COPD among males; however, the prevalence of COPD among females is increasing as the gender gap in smoking rates has diminished in the past 50 years.
Although the causal relationship between cigarette smoking and the development of COPD has been absolutely proved, there is considerable variability in the response to smoking. Although pack-years of cigarette smoking is the most highly significant predictor of FEV1 (Fig. 260-1), only 15% of the variability in FEV1 is explained by pack-years. This finding suggests that additional environmental and/or genetic factors contribute to the impact of smoking on the development of airflow obstruction.
Distributions of forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) values in a general population sample, stratified by pack-years of smoking. Means, medians, and ±1 standard deviation of percent predicted FEV1 are shown for each smoking group. Although a dose-response relationship between smoking intensity and FEV1 was found, marked variability in pulmonary function was observed among subjects with similar smoking histories. (From B Burrows et al: Am Rev Respir Dis 115:95, 1977; with permission.)
Although cigar and pipe smoking may also be associated with the development of COPD, the evidence supporting such associations is less compelling, likely related to the lower dose of inhaled tobacco by-products during cigar and pipe smoking.
Airway Responsiveness and COPD
A tendency for increased bronchoconstriction in response to a variety of exogenous stimuli, including methacholine and histamine, is one of the defining features of asthma (Chap. 254). However, many patients with COPD also share this feature of airway hyperresponsiveness. The considerable overlap between persons with asthma and those with COPD in airway responsiveness, airflow obstruction, and pulmonary symptoms led to the formulation of the Dutch hypothesis. This suggests that asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema are variations of the same basic disease, which is modulated by environmental and genetic factors to produce these pathologically distinct entities. The alternative British hypothesis contends that asthma and COPD are fundamentally different diseases: Asthma is viewed as largely an allergic phenomenon, while COPD results from smoking-related inflammation and damage. Determination of the validity of the Dutch hypothesis vs. the British hypothesis awaits identification of the genetic predisposing factors for asthma and/or COPD, as well as the interactions between these postulated genetic factors and environmental risk factors. Of note, several genes related to the proteinase-antiproteinase hypothesis have been implicated as genetic determinants for both COPD and asthma, including ADAM33 and macrophage elastase (MMP12) as described below.
Longitudinal studies that compared airway responsiveness at the beginning of the study to subsequent decline in pulmonary function have demonstrated that increased airway responsiveness is clearly a significant predictor of subsequent decline in pulmonary function. Thus, airway hyperresponsiveness is a risk factor for COPD.
The impact of adult respiratory infections on decline in pulmonary function is controversial, but significant long-term reductions in pulmonary function are not typically seen following an episode of bronchitis or pneumonia. The impact of the effects of childhood respiratory illnesses on the subsequent development of COPD has been difficult to assess due to a lack of adequate longitudinal data. Thus, although respiratory infections are important causes of exacerbations of COPD, the association of both adult and childhood respiratory infections to the development and progression of COPD remains to be proven.
Increased respiratory symptoms and airflow obstruction have been suggested to result from general exposure to dust and fumes at work. Several specific occupational exposures, including coal mining, gold mining, and cotton textile dust, have been suggested as risk factors for chronic airflow obstruction. Although nonsmokers in these occupations developed some reductions in FEV1, the importance of dust exposure as a risk factor for COPD, independent of cigarette smoking, is not certain for most of these exposures. However, a recent study found that coal mine dust exposure was a significant risk factor for emphysema in both smokers and nonsmokers. In most cases, the magnitude of these occupational exposures on COPD risk is likely substantially less important than the effect of ...