Prognostic value of first-recorded breathlessness for future chronic respiratory and heart disease: A cohort study using a UK national primary care database

Ying Chen, Richard Hayward, Carolyn A. Chew-Graham, Peter Croft, Kelvin P. Jordan, Richard Hubbard, Keith Sims

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Background Breathlessness is a common presentation in primary care. Aim To assess the long-term risk of diagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, ischaemic heart disease (IHD), and early mortality in patients with undiagnosed breathlessness. Design and setting Matched cohort study using data from the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink. Method Adults with first-recorded breathlessness between 1997 and 2010 and no prior diagnostic or prescription record for IHD or a respiratory disease ('exposed' cohort) were matched to individuals with no record of breathlessness ('unexposed' cohort). Analyses were adjusted for sociodemographic and comorbidity characteristics. Results In total, 75 698 patients (the exposed cohort) were followed for a median of 6.1 years, and more than one-third subsequently received a diagnosis of COPD, asthma, or IHD. In those who remained undiagnosed after 6 months, there were increased long-term risks of all three diagnoses compared with those in the unexposed cohort. Adjusted hazard ratios for COPD ranged from 8.6 (95% confidence interval [CI] = 6.8 to 11.0) for >6-12 months after the index date to 2.8 (95% CI = 2.6 to 3.0) for >36 months after the index date; asthma, 11.7 (CI = 9.4 to 14.6) to 4.3 (CI = 3.9 to 4.6); and IHD, 3.0 (CI = 2.7 to 3.4) to 1.6 (CI = 1.5 to 1.7). Risk of a longer time to diagnosis remained higher in members of the exposed cohort who had no relevant prescription in the first 6 months; approximately half of all future diagnoses were made for such patients. Risk of early mortality (all cause and disease specific) was higher in members of the exposed cohort. Conclusion Breathlessness can be an indicator of developing COPD, asthma, and IHD, and is associated with early mortality. With careful assessment, appropriate intervention, and proactive follow-up and monitoring, there is the potential to improve identification at first presentation in primary care in those at high risk of future disease who present with this symptom.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E264-E273
JournalBritish Journal of General Practice
Issue number693
Publication statusPublished - 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Asthma
  • Dyspnoea
  • Electronic health records
  • General practice
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disease

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Family Practice


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