Background: There is limited data on the risk factors and phenotypical characteristics associated with spirometrically confirmed COPD in never-smokers in the general population.
Aims: To compare the characteristics associated with COPD by gender and by severity of airway obstruction in never-smokers and in ever-smokers.
Method: We analysed the data from 5176 adults aged 40 years and older who participated in the initial cross-sectional phase of the population-based, prospective, multisite Canadian Cohort of Obstructive Lung Disease study. Never-smokers were defined as those with a lifetime exposure of <1/20 pack year. Logistic regressions were constructed to evaluate associations for 'mild' and 'moderate-severe' COPD defined by FEV1/FVC <5th centile (lower limits of normal). Analyses were performed using SAS V.9.1 (SAS Institute, Cary, North Carolina, USA).
Results: The prevalence of COPD (FEV1/FVC<lower limits of normal) in never-smokers was 6.4%, constituting 27% of all COPD subjects. The common independent predictors of COPD in never-smokers and ever-smokers were older age, self reported asthma and lower education. In never-smokers a history of hospitalisation in childhood for respiratory illness was discriminative, while exposure to passive smoke and biomass fuel for heating were discriminative for women. COPD in never-smokers and ever-smokers was characterised by increased respiratory symptoms, 'respiratory exacerbation' events and increased residual volume/total lung capacity, but only smokers had reduced DLCO/Va and emphysema on chest CT scans.
Conclusions: The study confirmed the substantial burden of COPD among never-smokers, defined the common and gender-specific risk factors for COPD in never-smokers and provided early insight into potential phenotypical differences in COPD between lifelong never-smokers and ever-smokers.
Trial registration number: NCT00920348 (ClinicalTrials.gov); study ID number: IRO-93326.
Keywords: COPD epidemiology; Clinical Epidemiology.
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