A study published in the International Journal of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease reports that electronic cigarettes could improve symptoms for COPD patients who smoke, compared to controls, including exacerbations, 6MWD, and reduced tobacco use.

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The three-year study followed a group of COPD patients who were e-cigarette users (n=22) and a second group of COPD patients who did not use e-cigarettes (n=22).

Baseline assessment was followed at 12, 24 and 36 months. Researchers documented patients’ respiratory symptoms, smoking status and conventional cigarette consumption per day, number of severe COPD exacerbations in the prior 12 months, post-bronchodilator FEV1, FVC, FEV1/FVC, and annual rate of FEV1 decline, CAT scores, and 6MWD.

Results for the COPD e-cigarette group were “clinically relevant,” authors noted.

COPD EC users had a significant reduction in conventional cigarette use, dropping from an average of 21.9 cigarettes/day at baseline to 2 at follow-up visit one, 1.6 at follow-up visit  two, and 1.5 at follow-up visit three. No marked changes were observed among COPD controls, researchers wrote. In the COPD EC user group, complete abstinence from daily conventional cigarette consumption was reported in 13/22 (59.1%) EC users at follow-up visit three.

COPD EC users had a significant decrease in COPD exacerbations, according to the study. Mean exacerbation rate fell from 2.3 at baseline to 1.7 at follow-up visit one, 1.4 at follow-up visit two, and 1.3 at follow-up visit three. There were no significant changes in COPD exacerbation rates over the 3 years in the control group from baseline.

Subjective COPD assessment, evaluated using CAT scores, improved significantly in the COPD EC group throughout the study. No significant changes in CAT scores were observed in the control group.

In addition, researchers saw a “significant improvement” in 6-minute walking distance for the COPD EC group compared to the COPD control group. Compared to baseline, at 36 months, the 6MWD improved by a median of 70 m in the COPD EC user group while it decreased by -7.5 m in the COPD control group.

However, no significant changes in post-bronchodilator FEV1 and FVC from baseline were observed over the 36-month period in both the study groups, according to the study.

Researchers reported that only two (8.3%) patients from the COPD EC user group relapsed to cigarette smoking, which could mean e-cigarettes also benefit relapse prevention.

The present study suggests that regular e-cigarette use ameliorates several health effect indicators in COPD and demonstrates that these beneficial effects may continue in the longer term,” researchers wrote. “By markedly reducing the number of conventional cigarettes smoked per day and hence exposure to their numerous hazardous toxicants, EC use may not only enhance COPD outcomes, but may also bestow an overall health advantage.”