Chronic cough at a non-teaching hospital: Are extrapulmonary causes overlooked?

Respirology. 2002 Jun;7(2):141-6. doi: 10.1046/j.1440-1843.2002.00378.x.


Objective: To estimate the prevalence, assess the diagnostic approach and to identify specific causes and treatment response of chronic persistent cough (CPC) in consecutive adult patients attending the chest clinic at a non-teaching hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Methodology: Chronic persistent cough was defined as cough persisting for more than 3 weeks. Patients were assessed clinically and investigated according to the suspected diagnosis. The specific causes were confirmed by appropriate investigations, as well as response to specific therapy. Improvement in cough following therapy was assessed subjectively by patients on a scale from 0 to 100%.

Results: Of 1332 patients seen in the chest clinic, 136 (10.2%; 95% confidence interval 8.6-11.8%) presented with CPC as the main complaint. One hundred patients (55% males) were assessed, after excluding 36 patients who were lost to follow up. The common presenting diagnoses (for the 81 patients who had previously consulted a physician) were upper respiratory tract infection (17.1%), asthma (15.9%), bronchitis (9.8%) and unknown in 30.8% of patients. Final diagnoses (as a sole or contributory cause) were established in 96% of patients and included rhinosinusitis (RS; 60%), asthma (26%), gastro-oesophageal reflux (GERD; 9%), postinfectious cough (8%) and bronchiectasis (5%). The agreement between the presenting and final diagnoses was generally poor, especially for extrapulmonary causes, which was as low as 5.3%. All patients, except for one, had complete or substantial improvement in the severity of cough.

Conclusions: In a non-teaching hospital setting, CPC is a common benign disorder that rarely requires specialized investigations and is easily treated once the causes are identified. The multiplicity of causes and extrapulmonary triggers of CPC, particularly RS, are often overlooked. The principal causes in our series remain the same as in studies elsewhere, namely RS, asthma and GERD.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Chronic Disease / epidemiology
  • Cough / epidemiology
  • Cough / etiology*
  • Female
  • Gastroesophageal Reflux / complications
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Outpatient Clinics, Hospital / statistics & numerical data
  • Prospective Studies
  • Saudi Arabia / epidemiology
  • Sinusitis / complications