A new study suggests that middle-aged smokers with heavily wrinkled faces have a five times higher risk of lung disease than their un-wrinkled peers. The study explains that having wrinkles was associated with a group of conditions known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
A team of researchers from the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital on 149 people conducted the study, and it suggests a person's genes may make them more susceptible to wrinkles and COPD. Publishing their writings in the issue of 'Thorax' they explain that the facial lining could give a clue to the risk of acquiring COPD.
COPD is a general term for a variety of progressive chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis, which block the airways and restrict oxygen flow around the body. It is reported that more than a million people in the UK are thought to have COPD, and with many yet to be diagnosed.
According to estimates by the World Health Organization COPD will become the third leading cause of death in the world by 2020. It was explained that Smoking is already known to cause premature ageing of the skin. The habit is also known to cause COPD in some of the smokers; leading scientists have always speculated that there must be a reason why some smokers are more at risk.
The researchers studied 149 current and former smokers, aged 45 to 70, from 78 different families. They found that a total of 68 people had COPD, and of the 25 people who had severe wrinkling 21 were found to have the lung condition. The researchers took the age and the number of years a person had been smocking into account, and found that smokers with wrinkled faces were five times more likely to have COPD. They also found that facial wrinkling was also associated with three times the risk of more severe emphysema.
Dr Bipen Patel, of the department of respiratory medicine at the Royal Devon and Exeter, who led the research, said, they think that there is a genetic susceptibility to COPD. Stating that this research clearly shows that those people who are prone to COPD are also prone to wrinkles, he explained that if there is a gene that could cause the development of COPD then there should also be a gene for developing wrinkles.
Dr Patel stated that wrinkles could be seen as a sign that someone was at increased risk of developing COPD. Professor Chris Griffiths, of the University of Manchester and a spokesman for the British Skin Foundation said that it is well documented that smoking is linked to skin wrinkling, and this is associated with smoking-induced stimulation of enzymes that break down collagen and elastic tissue in the skin.
He explained that the chronic lung condition, emphysema is also associated with loss of elasticity in the lungs and is equivalent to wrinkling in the skin. He further stated that it would be interesting thought for the scientific community to speculate that the susceptibility to sun induced skin wrinkles and the presence of emphysema are determined by similar mechanisms.
Dr Richard Russell of the British Thoracic Society said that it was crucial to have an early diagnosis. He further stated that they should encourage smokers, GPs and nurses to look out for any signs of premature heavy wrinkling in addition to the other symptoms of COPD such as persistent smokers cough and breathlessness.