Background: Emphysema on CT is common in older smokers. We hypothesised that emphysema on CT predicts acute episodes of care for chronic lower respiratory disease among older smokers.
Materials and methods: Participants in a lung cancer screening study age ≥ 60 years were recruited into a prospective cohort study in 2001-02. Two radiologists independently visually assessed the severity of emphysema as absent, mild, moderate or severe. Percent emphysema was defined as the proportion of voxels ≤ -910 Hounsfield Units. Participants completed a median of 5 visits over a median of 6 years of follow-up. The primary outcome was hospitalization, emergency room or urgent office visit for chronic lower respiratory disease. Spirometry was performed following ATS/ERS guidelines. Airflow obstruction was defined as FEV1/FVC ratio <0.70 and FEV1<80% predicted.
Results: Of 521 participants, 4% had moderate or severe emphysema, which was associated with acute episodes of care (rate ratio 1.89; 95% CI: 1.01-3.52) adjusting for age, sex and race/ethnicity, as was percent emphysema, with similar associations for hospitalisation. Emphysema on visual assessment also predicted incident airflow obstruction (HR 5.14; 95% CI 2.19-21.1).
Conclusion: Visually assessed emphysema and percent emphysema on CT predicted acute episodes of care for chronic lower respiratory disease, with the former predicting incident airflow obstruction among older smokers.