Gaining Weight May Help CF Patients Delay the Worsening of Symptoms, Study Finds

Stacy Grieve, PhD avatar

by Stacy Grieve, PhD |

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A new study shows that weight gain during the treatment of acute worsening symptoms in patients with cystic fibrosis (CF), called pulmonary exacerbations, could possibly lengthen the period before symptoms worsen again.

These results were published in the European Respiratory Journal Open Research, in an article titled, “Weight gain during acute treatment of an initial pulmonary exacerbation is associated with a longer interval to the next exacerbation in adults with cystic fibrosis.”

Pulmonary exacerbations are common in patients with CF. Generally, they can be defined as episodes of worsening symptoms. Patients with CF also often suffer from malnutrition. So, researchers suggested that the two clinical conditions might be linked. Studies have indeed shown that nutrition and lung function are associated, but the effect of nutrition and weight gain on pulmonary clinical outcomes hadn’t been studied before.

Researchers hypothesized that individuals who gain weight during treatment for their pulmonary exacerbations may have a better clinical outcome compared with patients who do not gain any weight.

To test this idea, the team used data generated from a separate clinical study with a broad range of adult patients treated at two CF centers in the United Kingdom. In the analysis, 59 patients were assessed and followed between July 2009 and March 2012. They also had been diagnosed with a chronic pulmonary infection called Pseudomonas aeruginosa.

In this patient group, the median time of treatment with antibiotics was 14 days, and the median weight gain was 1 kg. Most of the patients (98%) suffered from a worsening of symptoms, or pulmonary exacerbations, during the follow-up period.

Importantly, researchers found that gaining weight during the treatment period correlated with a longer symptom-free period. Patients who gained 1 kg in the course of their treatment had an adjusted hazard ratio of 0.79 (per kg increase in weight), meaning that these patients had a lower risk for new pulmonary exacerbations compared with patients who did not gain weight.

This is the first study to show an association between weight gain during treatment and the time to the next pulmonary exacerbation in adults.

However, it is important to note that data in this study were collected as a secondary analysis from a different study. It also is unclear if the association is causal. For example, does weight gain protect against a pulmonary exacerbation or is it just a signal that the treatment is working well? Future studies should explore these questions, researchers said.

Nonetheless, the team concluded that their study identifies weight gain as “a modifiable risk factor for pulmonary exacerbations that has the potential to improve quality of life and clinical care in individuals with CF.”