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Prevalence of Asthma Tripled in Recent Deployed Veterans

by U.S. Medicine

January 21, 2017

SAN ANTONIO—The prevalence of asthma nearly tripled during an eight-year period in VA patients who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new study.

The report, published in Military Medicine, said prevalence of the lung condition jumped from 1.1% to 3.1% between 2003 and 2011.1

The South Texas Veterans Healthcare System-led research also found that the rate of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) also increased, though not as dramatically, rising 0.31% to 0.55%.

To reach those conclusions, the study team focused on more than 760,000 veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan and received VA healthcare during the study period. Researchers suggest the findings “may suggest a link between deployment exposures and increased diagnoses of chronic lung disease in troops deployed to those countries.

The study did not compare rates of lung disease between deployed and nondeployed veterans but only identified a rise in the percentage of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who sought VA care for respiratory ailments.

“What we need to do is develop a longitudinal cohort that includes individuals who served in different periods of the wars, to begin disentangling the effect of deployment-related exposures, aging, and the interactions between exposures and aging,” said Mary Jo Pugh, PhD, RN, of the VA and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

Overall, about 34,000 out of the total study population, representing 4.5%, had any of the chronic lung diseases included in the analysis. Over the entire study period, 0.8% were diagnosed with COPD, 3.4% with asthma and 0.3% with interstitial lung disease.

Tobacco users, as determined by records showing a related diagnosis, or receipt of smoking cessation services, had more than a fourfold risk of lung disease, according to the report. Older age and a traumatic brain injury were also linked to a higher risk.

  1. Pugh MJ, Jaramillo CA, Leung KW, Faverio P, Fleming N, Mortensen E, Amuan ME, Wang CP, Eapen B, Restrepo M, Morris MJ. Increasing Prevalence of Chronic Lung Disease in Veterans of the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Mil Med. 2016 May;181(5):476-81. doi: 10.7205/MILMED-D-15-00035. PubMed PMID: 27136656

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