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Respiratory symptoms cut life expectancy in seniors

14 Jul 2019

Respiratory symptoms, such as coughs, shortness of breath and wheezing, are predictive of mortality in elderly adults, a recent study has shown. Smoking appears to modify these relationships.

Using data from the Australian Longitudinal Study of Ageing, researchers evaluated respiratory symptoms in 2,087 elderly adults (mean age, 78.2±6.7 years; 50.6 percent male) over 22 years of follow-up. Parametric survival functions were used to determine changes in life expectancy (LE).

Most (48.9 percent; n=1,018) of the participants were never smokers, while only 8.4 percent (n=176) were current smokers. There was also a sizable proportion of former smokers (42.0 percent; n=874). Majority died (86.5 percent; n=1,805) and 11.7 percent (n=244) were lost to follow-up; mean age at death or censoring was 88.9±6.4 years.

Across all smoking groups, the presence of cough (hazard ratio [HR], 1.22, 95 percent CI, 1.05–1.40), shortness of breath (HR, 1.50, 1.36–1.66) and wheezing (HR, 1.10, 0.98–1.23) increased the risk of mortality.

In current smokers, all respiratory symptoms assessed significantly predicted a greater mortality risk, while cough and shortness of breath were associated with increased risk of death in former smokers. Only shortness of breath was predictive of the risk in never smokers.

In the absence of respiratory symptoms, males aged 70 years had remaining LEs of 16.6, 16.3 and 13.6 years in never, former and current smokers, respectively. With all three symptoms present, the corresponding LEs dropped to 15.9, 13.4 and 11.7 years. A similar trend was reported for females, though LE was higher in general.

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