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Rationale: The autonomic nervous system extensively innervates the lungs, but its role in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) outcomes has not been well studied. Objective: We assessed relationships between cardiovascular autonomic nervous system measures (heart rate variability [HRV] and orthostatic hypotension [OH]) and incident COPD hospitalization in the multicenter ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk In Communities) study. Methods: We used Cox proportional hazards regression models to estimate hazard ratios and 95% confidence intervals between baseline (1987-1989) autonomic function measures (HRV measures from 2-minute electrocardiograms and OH variables) and incident COPD hospitalizations through 2019. Adjusted analyses included demographic data, smoking status, lung function, comorbidities, and physical activity. We also performed analyses stratified by baseline airflow obstruction. Results: Of the 11,625 participants, (mean age, 53.8 yr), 56.5% were female and 26.3% identified as Black. Baseline mean percentage predicted forced expiratory volume in 1 second was 94 ± 17% (standard deviation), and 2,599 participants (22.4%) had airflow obstruction. During a median follow-up time of 26.9 years, there were 2,406 incident COPD hospitalizations. Higher HRV (i.e., better autonomic function) was associated with a lower risk of incident COPD hospitalization. Markers of worse autonomic function (OH and greater orthostatic changes in systolic and diastolic blood pressure) were associated with a higher risk of incident COPD hospitalization (hazard ratio for the presence of OH, 1.5; 95% confidence interval, 1.25-1.92). In stratified analyses, results were more robust in participants without airflow obstruction at baseline. Conclusions: In this large multicenter prospective community cohort, better cardiovascular autonomic function at baseline was associated with a lower risk of subsequent hospitalization for COPD, particularly among participants without evidence of lung disease at baseline.


David M MacDonald, Yuekai Ji, Selcuk Adabag, Alvaro Alonso, Lin Yee Chen, Benjamin E Henkle, Stephen P Juraschek, Faye L Norby, Pamela L Lutsey, Ken M Kunisaki. Cardiovascular Autonomic Function and Incident Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Hospitalizations in Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities. Annals of the American Thoracic Society. 2023 Oct;20(10):1435-1444

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PMID: 37364277

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