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Background: Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) often present with severe acute exacerbations requiring hospital treatment. However, little is known about the prognostic consequences of these exacerbations. A study was undertaken to investigate whether severe acute exacerbations of COPD exert a direct effect on mortality.
Methods: Multivariate techniques were used to analyse the prognostic influence of acute exacerbations of COPD treated in hospital (visits to the emergency service and admissions), patient age, smoking, body mass index, co-morbidity, long term oxygen therapy, forced spirometric parameters, and arterial blood gas tensions in a prospective cohort of 304 men with COPD followed up for 5 years. The mean (SD) age of the patients was 71 (9) years and forced expiratory volume in 1 second was 46 (17)%.
Results: Only older age (hazard ratio (HR) 5.28, 95% CI 1.75 to 15.93), arterial carbon dioxide tension (HR 1.07, 95% CI 1.02 to 1.12), and acute exacerbations of COPD were found to be independent indicators of a poor prognosis. The patients with the greatest mortality risk were those with three or more acute COPD exacerbations (HR 4.13, 95% CI 1.80 to 9.41).
Conclusions: This study shows for the first time that severe acute exacerbations of COPD have an independent negative impact on patient prognosis. Mortality increases with the frequency of severe exacerbations, particularly if these require admission to hospital.