Background: Emphysema and small airway disease both contribute to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a disease characterised by accelerated decline in lung function. The association between the extent of emphysema in male current and former smokers and lung function decline was investigated.
Methods: Current and former heavy smokers participating in a lung cancer screening trial were recruited to the study and all underwent CT. Spirometry was performed at baseline and at 3-year follow-up. The 15th percentile (Perc15) was used to assess the severity of emphysema.
Results: 2085 men of mean age 59.8 years participated in the study. Mean (SD) baseline Perc15 was -934.9 (19.5) HU. A lower Perc15 value correlated with a lower forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV(1)) at baseline (r=0.12, p<0.001). Linear mixed model analysis showed that a lower Perc15 was significantly related to a greater decline in FEV(1) after follow-up (p<0.001). Participants without baseline airway obstruction who developed it after follow-up had significantly lower mean (SD) Perc15 values at baseline than those who did not develop obstruction (-934.2 (17.1) HU vs -930.2 (19.7) HU, p<0.001).
Conclusion: Greater baseline severity of CT-detected emphysema is related to lower baseline lung function and greater rates of lung function decline, even in those without airway obstruction. CT-detected emphysema aids in identifying non-obstructed male smokers who will develop airflow obstruction.