Elevated Triglycerides Raise COPD Mortality Risk

November 8, 2014
Jeannette Y. Wick, RPh, MBA, FASCP

In a study of patients with comorbid COPD and metabolic syndrome, elevated triglyceride levels were associated with increased mortality rates.

When metabolic syndrome is comorbid in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), it complicates the trajectory of pulmonary symptoms. Because both conditions are associated with systemic inflammation and physical activity, it’s no surprise why COPD patients with metabolic syndrome experience significant extrapulmonary effects that may contribute to their disease severity.

While a new study published in Metabolic Syndrome and Related Disorders on October 29, 2014, indicates that comorbid COPD seems to have little effect on mortality, it found that elevated triglycerides do.

The researchers looked for the presence of metabolic syndrome in 115 COPD patients who they observed for 5 years. Of the those patients, 21 presented with Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) stage I, 44 with stage II, 16 with stage III, and 34 with stage IV.

Approximately 36% of the patients were diagnosed with both COPD and metabolic syndrome, and roughly 17% of the entire study population died. When the researchers adjusted for age, they found that the incidence of comorbid COPD and metabolic syndrome was slightly higher in their study population compared with others.

The mortality rate was similar in all COPD patients, regardless of whether they had metabolic syndrome. Those who died tended to be older, and most deaths occurred among those classified as GOLD stage IV.

However, patients whose triglycerides increased 100 mg or more had a 39% higher probability of death in the study period. Thus, the researchers suggested that elevated triglycerides are a marker of systemic inflammation or frequent COPD acute exacerbation.

The researchers noted that their study was small, and they did not intervene to correct triglycerides. Therefore, further research is needed to determine whether the association holds in larger studies, and whether lowering triglycerides affects mortality in COPD patients.