Characterisation of the frequent exacerbator phenotype in COPD patients in a large UK primary care population

Lorcan McGarvey, Amanda J Lee, June Roberts, Kevin Gruffydd-Jones, Eddie McKnight, John Haughney

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55 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)228-237
Number of pages10
JournalRespiratory Medicine
Issue number2
Early online date29 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015

Bibliographical note

Copyright © 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

This study was undertaken by the National Service for Health Improvement (NSHI) using an unrestricted educational grant funded by GlaxoSmithKline.
The authors extend their thanks to the participating GP practices and acknowledge editorial support in the form of assistance in the development of the manuscript drafts, collating author comments and copyediting, which was provided by Kate Hollingworth of Continuous Improvement Ltd. This support was funded by NSHI.


  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Frequent exacerbator phenotype
  • primary care


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