Background: In westernized countries smoking and increasing age are the most important risk factors for COPD. Prevalence and risk factors of COPD among non-smokers are not well studied.
Aim: To study the prevalence and risk factors of COPD among non-smokers and to determine the proportion of non-smokers among subjects with COPD.
Methods: A random sample of 2470 subjects drawn from a population-based postal survey of 10,040 (85-88% participation) adults (aged 20-77) in Norrbotten, Sweden, were invited to structured interviews and lung function tests, and 1897 participated. COPD was classified using the fixed ratio (GOLD) definition and for comparison the lower limit of normal (LLN).
Results: The prevalence of airway obstruction was 6.9% among non-smokers and strongly age related. The prevalence of GOLD stage ≥II among non-smokers was 3.5%. Both among subjects with airway obstruction and among subjects with GOLD stage ≥II, the proportions of non-smokers were 20%. Of men with airway obstruction, 14.1% were non-smokers versus 26.8% among women. Non-smokers with GOLD stage ≥II had significantly more symptoms and higher co-morbidity than non-smokers without airway obstruction. Sex, area of domicile and exposure to environmental tobacco smoke was not significantly associated to airway obstruction among non-smokers. Using LLN for defining airway obstruction yielded a similar prevalence.
Conclusion: The prevalence of airway obstruction among non-smokers was close to 7% and was associated with increasing age. One out of seven men with airway obstruction, defined using the fixed ratio, versus one out of four women had never smoked.
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