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Scientists Show Link Between Persistent Childhood Asthma and COPD

WHAT: Scientists funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute have shown a link between persistent childhood asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Persistent asthma is characterized by recurrent breathing difficulties irrespective of medication use. COPD is a debilitating lung disease that typically affects current or former smokers in their 40s or older. The study findings, published May 12 in The New England Journal of Medicine, demonstrate that a small group of children with persistent asthma develop COPD before the age of 30 years.

The researchers studied participants from the Childhood Asthma Management Program (also known as CAMP), which followed 5- to 12-year-old children with asthma into early adulthood. The current study involved 684 CAMP participants who were determined to have persistent childhood asthma.

The scientists found that among children with persistent asthma, 75 percent had lower than expected lung growth at some point before their early 20s. Eleven percent met the criteria for lung function impairment consistent with COPD. The findings were independent of smoking. Boys experienced worse outcomes, although the reasons are not yet clear.

The authors concluded that regardless of drug treatment and smoking, most children with persistent asthma have reduced lung function at some point before early adulthood. They further noted that children with reduced lung function are at higher risk of meeting the criteria for COPD in their early 20s, as compared to those whose lung function is normal. The authors recommend that children with persistent asthma be given special counseling regarding the potential long-term consequences of their disease.

WHO: James Kiley, PhD, the Director of the Division of Lung Diseases and Sleep at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, is available to comment on the findings and implications of this research.

CONTACT: For more information or to schedule an interview, please contact the NHLBI Office of Science Policy, Engagement, Education, and Communications at 301-496-5449 or sends e-mail).

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