The British Journal of General Practice (BJGP) has reported research showing that increases in respiratory symptoms are more likely to be due to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than asthma, indicating a growing problem in smoking-related complaints.

The study, conducted between 1993 and 2001, observed respiratory symptoms and risk factors in patients registered with two neighbouring general practices. Patients of all age groups were sent four postal respiratory questionnaire surveys over an eight-year period. The final analyses included 8,058 adults and 2,350 children.

Participants in the study were questioned about symptoms of wheezing, coughing, chest tightness or shortness of breath and a history of hayfever/eczema or family history of asthma. Childhood asthma was defined by several symptoms including wheezing, night coughing, uptake of more than three courses of antibiotics in a year, and a history of hayfever, eczema or family history of asthma.

The study found out of those patients observed respiratory complaints were more common in men over the age of 44 without a family history or asthma, or hayfever/eczema, suggesting that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) rather than asthma was to blame. The results also showed a lower prevalence of asthma in children.

Dr Peter Frank of the North West Lung Centre at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester and co-author of the study said: "The results of this study provide valuable information on recent changes in respiratory symptom prevalence. While it is reassuring that childhood symptoms seem to be decreasing, the situation in adults suggests that smoking-related respiratory symptoms are on the increase. This reinforces the need for effective smoking cessation strategies in the UK."

Paul I Frank, Paul D Wicks, Michelle L Hazell, Mary F Linehan, Sybil Hirsch, Philip C Hannaford and Timothy L Frank "Temporal change in the prevalence of respiratory symptoms and obstructive airways disease 1993-2001" BJGP August 2005; 55: 596-602.

The BJGP is published monthly and distributed to over 22,500 RCGP members, associates, and subscribers in more than 40 countries worldwide. Its primary purpose is to publish first-rate, peer reviewed research papers on topics relevant to primary care.

The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is the largest membership organisation in the United Kingdom solely for GPs. It aims to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and to act as the "voice" of GPs on issues concerned with education, training, research, and clinical standards.

Founded in 1952, the RCGP has over 22,500 members who are committed to improving patient care, developing their own skills and promoting general practice as a discipline. rcgp

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