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Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a devastating lung disease.  It is the fourth leading disease killer in the world, as well as in the United States.  COPD affects more than 600 million people worldwide and kills more than 2.75 million people each year, according to estimates by the World Health Organization.  Of equal concern, however, are the estimates that to 50 percent of people with the disease are not yet aware that they have it.

As with most conditions, early diagnosis is helpful.  Even though COPD is one of the world's leading and least known killers, with proper diagnosis, treatment and management, COPD can be controlled, and people with COPD can lead active, productive lives.   Of course, the most important preventive and treatment recommendation is to stop smoking.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a lung disease that is progressive and not fully reversible. COPD obstructs the airways, making breathing difficult. Patients with COPD, who include those with chronic bronchitis and emphysema, have symptoms ranging from cough and sputum production to shortness of breath when walking even a short distance.

To raise the level of awareness about COPD and to facilitate its earlier diagnosis, leading lung experts from the Global Initiative For Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) have developed a "self assessment questionnaire", which asks five simple questions. If someone answers 'yes' to three or more questions, they are advised to consult their physicians, who can either confirm or rule-out a diagnosis of COPD with a physical exam and diagnostic tests.  GOLD is a worldwide coalition of medical professionals, health care associations, patient groups and government agencies focused on reducing COPD prevalence, morbidity and mortality.

Historically, COPD has been viewed as having a greater impact in men.  As a direct result of the increased incidence of smoking among women, the year 2000 marked the first time the number of American women who died from COPD exceeded that of men.  In 2000, physicians diagnosed an estimated 10 million adults in the U.S. with COPD.  However, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (NHANES) suggest that, in the US, approximately 24 million adults have evidence of impaired lung function, suggesting that COPD is greatly underdiagnosed. Despite the underdiagnosis, COPD was responsible for eight million physician office and hospital outpatient visits, and 726,000 hospitalizations in the US alone. In 2002, medical expenditures amounted to $32.1 billion.

If you answer yes to three or more of these questions, ask your doctor whether you should be evaluated for COPD or another respiratory illness.

  1. Do you cough several times most days?
  2. Do you bring up phlegm or mucus most days?
  3. Do you get out of breath more easily than others your age?
  4. Are you older than 40 years?
  5. Are you a current smoker or an ex-smoker?

Created: 12/8/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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