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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 June 2006, 23:55 GMT 00:55 UK
Wrinkly smokers 'at greater risk'
Scientists want to find out why only some smokers develop COPD
Middle-aged smokers with heavily lined faces have a five times higher risk of lung disease than their un-wrinkled peers, a study has suggested.

Having wrinkles was associated with a group of conditions known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The Cambridge team said its study of 149 people suggests a person's genes may make them more susceptible to wrinkles and COPD.

Writing in Thorax, the team says facial lining could give a clue to COPD risk.

The chronic lung condition emphysema is also associated with loss of elasticity in the lungs and is analogous to wrinkling in the skin
Professor Chris Griffiths
British Skin Foundation

COPD is an umbrella term for a range of progressive chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis, which block the airways and restrict oxygen flow around the body.

More than a million people in the UK are thought to have COPD, but many have not been diagnosed.

The World Health Organization estimates COPD will become the third leading cause of death in the world by 2020.

Warning sign

Smoking is already known to cause premature ageing of the skin.

The habit is also known to cause most cases of COPD - but not all smokers are affected, leading scientists to speculate there must be a reason why some are more at risk.

The researchers studied 149 current and former smokers, aged 45 to 70, from 78 families around Cambridge.

A total of 68 people had COPD.

Of the 25 with severe wrinkling, 21 had the lung condition.

After age and the number of years someone had smoked were taken into account, smokers with lined faces were five times more likely to have COPD.

Facial wrinkling was also associated with triple the risk of more severe emphysema.

Dr Bipen Patel, of the department of respiratory medicine at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, who led the research, said: "We think there is a genetic susceptibility to COPD.

"What this research shows is that those who are prone to COPD are also prone to wrinkles.

"If there is a gene for COPD susceptibility, it may also increase the chance of someone developing wrinkles.

Elastic tissue

Dr Patel said wrinkles could be used as a sign that someone was at increased risk of developing COPD.

British Skin Foundation spokesman Professor Chris Griffiths, from the University of Manchester, said: "It is well documented that smoking is linked to skin wrinkling, and this is associated with smoking-induced stimulation of enzymes that break down collagen and elastic tissue in the skin.

"The chronic lung condition emphysema is also associated with loss of elasticity in the lungs and is analogous to wrinkling in the skin.

"It would be interesting to speculate that the susceptibility to sun induced skin wrinkles and the presence of emphysema are determined by similar mechanisms."

Dr Richard Russell of the British Thoracic Society said: "Early diagnosis is crucial in COPD.

"We would encourage smokers, GPs and nurses to look out for premature heavy wrinkling in addition to the other symptoms of COPD such as persistent smokers cough and breathlessness."

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