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Smoking Worsens Prognosis for IPF Patients

Study tackles anomaly that current puffers live longer with untreatable lung disease

MONDAY, Jan. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Current and former smokers with the lung disease idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) have a worse prognosis than nonsmokers, says a British study.

IPF is untreatable, and patients usually die within five years of diagnosis. Previous research had suggested that current smokers with IPF may live longer than former smokers, but the authors of this new study said that was likely due to a "healthy smoker effect."

"Smoking is associated with a higher degree of mortality in IPF, and an earlier finding, suggesting the contrary, was almost certainly due to the fact that smokers tend to stop smoking when disease becomes more severe -- and so current smoking is linked to milder disease," research leader Dr. Athol U. Wells, of the Interstitial Lung Disease Unit at the Royal Brompton Hospital in London, said in a prepared statement.

Publishing in the second issue for January of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, Wells and his colleagues analyzed the medical records of 249 IPF patients and found nonsmokers survived longer than current or former smokers.

"We speculate as to whether this reflects disease co-morbidity -- that is, excess mortality from non-pulmonary disease ascribable to smoking -- or an effect of smoking in driving progression of lung disease," Wells said.

The team is doing further research in this area.

"The next step is to pursue the idea that mechanisms linked to smoking cause progression of pulmonary fibrosis. If we can then understand these mechanisms better, this may give us new treatment options," Wells said.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Thoracic Society, news release, Jan. 15, 2008

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