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Three-Quarters of COPD Cases are Linked to Childhood Risk Factors that are Exacerbated in Adulthood

image002072018According to a study published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal, three-quarters of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cases are caused by poor lung function pathways that are developed during childhood. The study revealed that both childhood illnesses, such as asthma and pneumonia, and exposure to parental smoking are also linked to COPD. A second study published in the journal also suggested that there may be a "window of opportunity" during childhood to help reduce the risk of poor lung function in the future.

“These findings highlight the importance of preventing both early life adverse exposures that could lead to poorer lung growth, and adult risk factors contributing to accelerated lung decline,” said study author Professor Shyamali Dharmage. “Reduction of maternal smoke exposure and personal smoking and promotion of immunization are identified as public health targets to prevent poor lung function pathways.”

The first study measured more than 2,400 participants' lung function from childhood to the age of 53. Researchers discovered three pathways that define how lung function changes with age in relation to COPD - below average lung function in early life and a rapid decline in lung function in later life, continuously low lung function and below average lung function.

These three pathways contributed to an estimated three-quarters of all cases of COPD occurring among participants at the age of 53 and were also linked to childhood asthma, pneumonia, parents with asthma or smoking habits, and the participants themselves having asthma or smoking habits.

Throughout the second study, the lung function of more than 2,600 participants was measured from birth to the age of 24. Nearly three-quarters of infants, aged one to six months, that had poor lung function were documented to have improved throughout their childhood, indicating a possible window of opportunity to increase lung function and reduce the risk of developing COPD.

"Childhood risk factors are important indicators of COPD risk, that are aggravated by smoking and having asthma in adulthood. This amplifies the damage already caused by childhood risk factors and may result in a more rapid decline in lung function," said the researchers. "As a result, it will be important to reduce parental smoking, encourage immunization, and avoid smoking to promote healthy lung function pathways and minimize COPD risk, especially for people who had low childhood lung function or whose parents smoked."

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