Many young people suffer from chronic bronchitis, research has found. It has been thought that the respiratory disorder only affected elderly people. But a major survey of almost 16,000 people aged 18 to 47 at 28 centres in 13 countries has shown just the opposite.
The researchers found that the disease affects up to 12% of adults under the age of 40. Young smokers were particularly at risk, and men were more affected than women. Chronic bronchitis often gives rise to bouts of heavy bacterial infection, and can eventually lead to very serious problems with the respiratory system.
The researchers, led by Professor Roberto de Vinci, of the University of Verona, Italy, uncovered wide variations in the rate of chronic bronchitis. 50% of the centres showed chronic bronchitis rates of over 2.6%. Dr de Vinci said: "This is a high figure, considering the age of the subjects, and it took the researchers by surprise."Moderate smokers were three-and-a-half times more likely to be affected by chronic bronchitis than non-smokers. But heavy smokers were up to 17 times more at risk. Smokers who developed the disease were also more likely to suffer complications, such as obstruction in the lungs.
The researchers stressed, however, that smoking was not the only risk factor for chronic bronchitis. Some 19% of sufferers did not smoke at all. Other likely risk factors include poverty, and exposure to respiratory irritants.