Rationale: Rural residence is associated with poor outcomes in several chronic diseases. The association between rural residence and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations remains unclear.Objectives: In this work, we sought to determine the independent association between rural residence and COPD-related outcomes, including COPD exacerbations, airflow obstruction, and symptom burden.Methods: A total of 1,684 SPIROMICS (Subpopulations and Intermediate Outcome Measures in COPD Study) participants with forced expiratory volume in 1 second/forced vital capacity < 0.70 had geocoding-defined rural-urban residence status determined (N = 204 rural and N = 1,480 urban). Univariate and multivariate logistic and negative binomial regressions were performed to assess the independent association between rurality and COPD outcomes, including exacerbations, lung function, and symptom burden. The primary exposure of interest was rural residence, determined by geocoding of the home address to the block level at the time of study enrollment. Additional covariates of interest included demographic and clinical characteristics, occupation, and occupational exposures. The primary outcome measures were exacerbations determined over a 1-year course after enrollment by quarterly telephone calls and at an annual research clinic visit. The odds ratio (OR) and incidence rate ratio (IRR) of exacerbations that required treatment with medications, including steroids or antibiotics (total exacerbations), and exacerbations leading to hospitalization (severe exacerbations) were determined after adjusting for relevant covariates.Results: Rural residence was independently associated with a 70% increase in the odds of total exacerbations (OR, 1.70 [95% confidence interval (CI), 1.13-2.56]; P = 0.012) and a 46% higher incidence rate of total exacerbations (IRR 1.46 [95% CI, 1.02-2.10]; P = 0.039). There was no association between rural residence and severe exacerbations. Agricultural occupation was independently associated with increased odds and incidence of total and severe exacerbations. Inclusion of agricultural occupation in the analysis attenuated the association between rural residence and the odds and incidence rate of total exacerbations (OR, 1.52 [95% CI, 1.00-2.32]; P = 0.05 and IRR 1.39 [95% CI, 0.97-1.99]; P = 0.07). There was no difference in symptoms or airflow obstruction between rural and urban participants.Conclusions: Rural residence is independently associated with increased odds and incidence of total, but not severe, COPD exacerbations. These associations are not fully explained by agriculture-related exposures, highlighting the need for future research into potential mechanisms of the increased risk of COPD exacerbations in the rural population.
Keywords: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; exacerbation; rural health.