Rationale: Chronic bronchitis is, by definition, a chronic condition, but the development and remission of this condition in cigarette smokers with or without chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are poorly understood. Also, it is unclear how the persistence or new development of chronic bronchitis affects symptoms and outcomes.
Objectives: To ascertain the relationship between smoking status and the presence or absence of chronic bronchitis and the subsequent effects on symptoms and outcomes.
Methods: We analyzed 1,775 current or ex-smokers with GOLD (Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease) stage 0-IV COPD in phase 2 of the Genetic Epidemiology of COPD (COPDGene) Study, which included subjects after 5 years of follow-up from phase 1. We asked subjects at enrollment and at 5 years of follow-up about symptoms consistent with chronic bronchitis. We divided subjects into four groups: persistent chronic bronchitis- (negative at phase 1/negative at phase 2), resolved chronic bronchitis (positive/negative), new chronic bronchitis (negative/positive), and persistent chronic bronchitis+ (positive/positive). We analyzed respiratory symptoms, health-related quality of life, lung function, exacerbation frequency, and 6-minute walk distance.
Measurements and main results: Compared with the persistent chronic bronchitis- group, members of the persistent chronic bronchitis+ group were more likely to have continued smoking (53.4%). Subjects with new chronic bronchitis were more likely to have resumed (6.6%) or continued smoking (45.6%), whereas subjects with resolved chronic bronchitis were more likely to have quit smoking (23.5%). Compared with the persistent chronic bronchitis- group, the other groups had a shorter 6-minute walk distance, worse lung function, greater exacerbation frequency, and worse respiratory symptoms. Modified Medical Research Council dyspnea and St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire scores worsened between phase 1 and phase 2 in subjects with new chronic bronchitis but improved in the resolved chronic bronchitis group. On multinomial logistic regression, quitting smoking conferred an odds ratio (OR) of 4.289 (95% confidence interval [CI], 2.689-6.842) for resolved chronic bronchitis, whereas resuming smoking had an OR of 4.585 (95% CI, 2.008-10.471) for new chronic bronchitis. Persistent smoking had an OR of 2.621 (95% CI, 1.677-4.096) and 5.767 (95% CI, 3.702-8.983) for subjects with new chronic bronchitis and subjects with persistent chronic bronchitis, respectively.
Conclusions: Persistent and newly developed chronic bronchitis are associated with continued or resumed smoking, greater respiratory symptoms, worse health-related quality of life, worse lung function, and greater exacerbation frequency. These findings stress the importance of repeatedly assessing chronic cough and sputum production in smokers to identify those at risk for poor outcomes.
Keywords: chronic bronchitis; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; smoking.