Heavy wrinkles on smokers' faces can indicate a higher risk of contracting lung disease, a new study finds.
Smoking is known to cause premature aging.
The new research finds that middle-aged smokers whose faces are heavily lined with wrinkles are five times as likely to have emphysema, bronchitis, or another such progressive, chronic lung disease.
The study, released today by the British Medical Journal, is detailed online by the journal Thorax. The lead author is Bipen Patel of Royal Devon & Exeter NHS.
The World Health Organization predicts that these diseases, collectively called chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD), will by 2020 be the third leading cause of death in the world.
Not all smokers contract COPD, however.
The study examined 149 current and former middle-aged smokers, of which 68 had COPD. While only 25 of the overall group had widespread wrinkles, those who had COPD were five times as likely to be among the wrinkled.
The amount of air that study subjects could force from their lungs was "significantly lower in those with extensive wrinkling," the study concludes.
It is not clear, however, what's behind the links.
"Both smoking-related facial wrinkling and emphysema may be likened to premature ageing of the tissues," the researchers write. "Thus it is plausible that the genetic factors that predispose smokers to COPD also predispose smokers to wrinkling of the skin."