Occupational exposures are associated with worse morbidity in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2015 Mar 1;191(5):557-65. doi: 10.1164/rccm.201408-1407OC.


Rationale: Links between occupational exposures and morbidity in individuals with established chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) remain unclear.

Objectives: To determine the impact of occupational exposures on COPD morbidity.

Methods: A job exposure matrix (JEM) determined occupational exposure likelihood based on longest job in current/former smokers (n = 1,075) recruited as part of the Subpopulations and Intermediate Outcomes in COPD Study, of whom 721 had established COPD. Bivariate and multivariate linear regression models estimated the association of occupational exposure with COPD, and among those with established disease, the occupational exposure associations with 6-minute-walk distance (6MWD), the Modified Medical Research Council Dyspnea Scale (mMRC), the COPD Assessment Test (CAT), St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ), 12-item Short-Form Physical Component (SF-12), and COPD exacerbations requiring health care utilization, adjusting for demographics, current smoking status, and cumulative pack-years.

Measurements and main results: An intermediate/high risk of occupational exposure by JEM was found in 38% of participants. In multivariate analysis, those with job exposures had higher odds of COPD (odds ratio, 1.44; 95% confidence interval, 1.04-1.97). Among those with COPD, job exposures were associated with shorter 6MWDs (-26.0 m; P = 0.006); worse scores for mMRC (0.23; P = 0.004), CAT (1.8; P = 0.003), SGRQ (4.5; P = 0.003), and SF-12 Physical (-3.3; P < 0.0001); and greater odds of exacerbation requiring health care utilization (odds ratio, 1.55; P = 0.03).

Conclusions: Accounting for smoking, occupational exposure was associated with COPD risk and, for those with established disease, shorter walk distance, greater breathlessness, worse quality of life, and increased exacerbation risk. Clinicians should obtain occupational histories from patients with COPD because work-related exposures may influence disease burden.

Keywords: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; job exposure matrix; occupational exposure; quality of life; work-related.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Disease Progression
  • Effect Modifier, Epidemiologic
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive / epidemiology*
  • Quality of Life
  • Smoking / epidemiology