Defining Chronic Mucus Hypersecretion Using the CAT in the SPIROMICS Cohort

Int J Chron Obstruct Pulmon Dis. 2020 Oct 13:15:2467-2476. doi: 10.2147/COPD.S267002. eCollection 2020.


Background: Chronic cough and phlegm are frequently reported chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms. Prior research classified chronic mucus hypersecretion (CMH) based on the presence of these symptoms for ≥3 months, called chronic bronchitis (CB) if respiratory infection symptoms were present for 1-2 years (Medical Research Council [MRC] definition). We explored whether the COPD Assessment Test (CAT), a simple measure developed for routine clinical use, captures CMH populations and outcomes similarly to MRC and St. George's Respiratory Questionnaire (SGRQ) definitions.

Methods: We identified CMH in the SPIROMICS COPD cohort using (a) MRC definitions, (b) SGRQ questions for cough and phlegm (both as most/several days a week), and (c) CAT cough and phlegm questions. We determined optimal cut-points for CAT items and described exacerbation frequencies for different CMH definitions. Moderate exacerbations required a new prescription for antibiotics/oral corticosteroids or emergency department visit; severe exacerbations required hospitalization. Results were stratified by smoking status.

Results: In a population of 1431 participants (57% male; mean FEV1% predicted 61%), 47% and 49% of evaluable participants had SGRQ- or CAT-defined CMH, respectively. A cut-point of ≥2 for cough and phlegm items defined CMH in CAT. Among SGRQ-CMH+ participants, 80% were also defined as CMH+ by the CAT. CMH+ participants were more likely to be current smokers. A higher exacerbation frequency was observed for presence of CMH+ versus CMH- in the year prior to baseline for all CMH definitions; this trend continued across 3 years of follow-up, regardless of smoking status.

Conclusion: Items from the CAT identified SGRQ-defined CMH, a frequent COPD trait that correlated with exacerbation frequency. The CAT is a short, simple questionnaire and a potentially valuable tool for telemedicine or real-world trials. CAT-based CMH is a novel approach for identifying clinically important characteristics in COPD that can be ascertained in these settings.

Keywords: CAT; COPD; SGRQ; cough; exacerbation; phlegm.

MeSH terms

  • Bronchitis, Chronic* / diagnosis
  • Bronchitis, Chronic* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mucus
  • Pulmonary Disease, Chronic Obstructive* / diagnosis
  • Quality of Life
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Surveys and Questionnaires