Study objectives: Patients with COPD experience lower airway and systemic inflammation, and an accelerated decline in FEV1. There is no evidence on whether this inflammation changes over time, or if it is associated with a faster decline in FEV1.
Patients and design: A cohort of 148 COPD patients (100 men) was monitored daily for a median of 2.91 years (interquartile range [IQR], 2.1 to 4.8). At recruitment, median age was 68.5 years (IQR, 62.5 to 73.6) and FEV1 as percentage of predicted (FEV1%Pred) was 38.5% (IQR, 27.7 to 50.3).
Results: During the study, the patients experienced 1,389 exacerbations, a median of 2.52/yr (IQR, 1.48 to 3.96) and FEV1 declined by 40.2 mL/yr or as FEV1%Pred by 1.5%/yr. Concerning inflammatory markers, sputum interleukin (IL)-6 rose by 9 pg/mL/yr, sputum neutrophil count rose by 1.64 × 106 cells per gram sputum per year, an plasma fibrinogen rose by 0.10 g/L/yr (all p < 0.05). Patients with frequent exacerbations (≥ 2.52/yr) had a faster rise over time in plasma fibrinogen and sputum IL-6 of 0.063 g/L/yr (p = 0.046, n = 130) and 29.5 pg/mL/yr (p < 0.001, n = 98), respectively, compared to patients with infrequent exacerbations (< 2.52/yr). Using the earliest stable (nonexacerbation) measured marker, patients whose IL-6 exceeded the group median had a faster FEV1%Pred decline of 0.42%/yr (p = 0.018). Similarly, a high neutrophil count or fibrinogen were associated with a faster FEV1%Pred decline of 0.97%/yr (p = 0.001) and 0.40%/yr (p = 0.014), respectively.
Conclusions: In COPD, airway and systemic inflammatory markers increase over time; high levels of these markers are associated with a faster decline in lung function.