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Heat Waves Could Worsen COPD Symptoms, Study Suggests

SUNDAY, May 18, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- As air temperatures rise, so too may the symptoms of the chronic respiratory illness COPD, a new study suggests.

The problem might be even more dire if predictions about global warming come to pass, the study's authors said.

The study was slated for presentation Sunday in San Diego at the annual meeting of the American Thoracic Society.

Getting a better understanding of who is most vulnerable to rising temperatures "is increasingly important in order to anticipate and prepare for health effects related to climate change," the study's lead author, Dr. Meredith McCormack, of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, said in a meeting news release. "These findings support the need for adaptive approaches to COPD treatment to prevent adverse health effects related to increases in temperature," she said.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD, refers to a group of diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that causes airflow blockage and breathing problems. Fifteen million Americans report they have a COPD diagnosis, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the new study, McCormack's team found that patients exposed to warmer temperatures indoors had a worsening of their symptoms and a decrease in lung function.

Warmer temperatures outside were also linked to an increase in COPD symptoms.

The study involved 84 former smokers with moderate to severe COPD. Each of the participants was observed for one week. This occurred three times and each observation week was spaced three months apart.

During observations, the participants assessed their symptoms on a daily basis. This included measuring their breathlessness, cough production, lung function and their need for an inhaler. The daily outdoors temperature as well as the temperature inside their homes was also recorded.

After more than 600 days of monitoring during warm months, the study showed that the participants went outside on 48 percent of those days. Even after taking air pollution concentrations into account, warmer indoor temperatures were associated with a rise in symptoms and need for medication and a decline in lung function.

The researchers noted that rising temperatures outside were only linked to a worsening of symptoms. Outdoor heat did not affect the participants' use of medication or lung function.

Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal. But McCormack believes more research is needed to determine the best ways to help COPD patients keep symptoms at bay when temperatures spike. "The need for novel approaches is especially critical in the face of anticipated climate change," she said.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute provides more information on COPD.

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, May 18, 2014.

Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Akin, RN, BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith, RN, MSN, FNP, CCRC
Date Last Reviewed: 5/18/2014
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