Acute respiratory failure (ARF) is a life-threatening event, which is frequently associated with the severe exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Hypoalbuminemia is associated with increased mortality in patients with COPD. However, to date, little is known regarding whether or not hypoalbuminemia is a risk factor for developing ARF in COPD.
We conducted a retrospective cohort study using data from the National Health Insurance system of Taiwan. A total of 42,732 newly diagnosed COPD patients (age ≥40 years) from 1997 to 2011 were enrolled. Among them, 1,861 (4.36%) patients who had received albumin supplementation were defined as hypoalbuminemia, and 40,871 (95.6%) patients who had not received albumin supplementation were defined as no hypoalbuminemia.
Of 42,732 newly diagnosed COPD patients, 5,248 patients (12.3%) developed ARF during the 6 years follow-up period. Patients with hypoalbuminemia were older, predominantly male, had more comorbidities, and required more steroid treatment and blood transfusions than patients without hypoalbuminemia. In a multivariable Cox regression analysis model, being elderly was the strongest independent risk factor for ARF (adjusted hazard ratio [HR]: 4.63, P<0.001), followed by hypoalbuminemia (adjusted HR: 2.87, P<0.001). However, as the annual average dose of albumin supplementation was higher than 13.8 g per year, the risk for ARF was the highest (adjusted HR: 11.13, 95% CI: 10.35-11.98, P<0.001).
Hypoalbuminemia is a strong risk factor for ARF in patients with COPD. Therefore, further prospective studies are required to verify whether or not albumin supplementation or nutritional support may help to reduce the risk of ARF in patients with COPD.