BACKGROUND: The 'frequent exacerbator' is recognised as an important phenotype in COPD. Current understanding about this phenotype comes from prospective longitudinal clinical trials in secondary/tertiary care with little information reported in primary care populations.
AIMS: To characterize the frequent-exacerbator phenotype and identify associated risk factors in a large UK primary care COPD population.
METHODS: Using a large database of primary care patients from 80 UK general practices, patients were categorised using GOLD 2014 criteria into high and low risk groups based on exacerbation history. A multivariate logistic regression model was used to investigate covariates associated with the frequent-exacerbator phenotype and risk of experiencing a severe exacerbation (leading to hospitalisation).
RESULTS: Of the total study population (n = 9219), 2612 (28%) fulfilled the criteria for high risk frequent-exacerbators. Independent risk factors (adjusted odds ratio [95% CI]) for ≥2 exacerbations were: most severely impaired modified Medical Research Council (mMRC) dyspnoea score (mMRC grade 4: 4.37 [2.64-7.23]), lower FEV1 percent predicted (FEV1 <30%: 2.42 [1.61-3.65]), co-morbid cardiovascular disease (1.42 [1.19-1.68]), depression (1.56 [1.22-1.99]) or osteoporosis (1.54 [1.19-2.01]), and female gender (1.20 [1.01-1.43]). Older patients (≥75 years), those with most severe lung impairment (FEV1 <30%), those with highest mMRC score and those with co-morbid osteoporosis were identified as most at risk of experiencing exacerbations requiring hospitalisation.
CONCLUSIONS: Although COPD exacerbations occur across all grades of disease severity, female patients with high dyspnoea scores, more severely impaired lung function and co-morbidities are at greatest risk. Elderly patients, with severely impaired lung function, high mMRC scores and osteoporosis are associated with experience of severe exacerbations requiring hospitalisation.