Background: Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) can be categorized as having frequent (FE) or infrequent (IE) exacerbations depending on whether they respectively experience two or more, or one or zero exacerbations per year. Although most patients do not change category from year to year, some will, and the factors associated with this behaviour have not been examined.
Methods: 1832 patients completing two year follow-up in the Evaluation of COPD Longitudinally to Identify Predictive Surrogate End-points (ECLIPSE) study were examined at baseline and then yearly. Exacerbations were defined by health care utilisation. Patient characteristics compared between those patients who did or did not change exacerbation category from year 1 to year 2.
Findings: Between years 1 and 2, 221 patients (17%) changed from IE to FE and 210 patients (39%) from FE to IE. More severe disease was associated with changing from IE to FE and less severe disease from FE to IE. Over the preceding year, small falls in FEV1 and 6-minute walking distance were associated with changing from IE to FE, and small falls in platelet count associated with changing from FE to IE.
Conclusion: No parameter clearly predicts an imminent change in exacerbation frequency category.
Trial registration: SCO104960, clinicaltrials.gov identifier NCT00292552.