Earlier COPD Diagnosis? A HealthCentral Explainer

ATsai Editor
  • A study published in Respiration has found that a protein--called HSP27--could be a blood biomarker for COPD, which would help doctors detect and diagnose the condition earlier. And early treatment of COPD could make a difference in quality of life.


    How was the study done?

    Researchers in Austria recruited 94 male and female smokers, average age 43, who all appeared to be healthy. These volunteers then had high-resolution CT scans, lung function tests and provided blood samples. Scan results showed that 57.5 percent of the patients showed signs of air trapping in the lungs--a common sign of emphysema. However, the lung function tests appeared normal. Researchers then looked at the blood samples, using a special kit called ELISA, and determined that levels of HSP27 showed significant correlation with the lung damage seen with the CT scans.

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    Are there other factors?

    All of the volunteers in the study were smokers, and about 90 percent of COPD cases are tied to  smoking. Therefore, if HSP27 levels are high and a person is a smoker, it may mean that the person has lung damage or early onset of COPD.

    COPD can also be caused by a genetic condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (A-1AD). That’s  what usually causes COPD in people younger than 40 and non-smokers. Typically, though,  COPD affects middle-aged and older adults. Other COPD risk factors include occupational and environmental work hazards, such as long-term exposure to chemical fumes.


    What are current methods of diagnosis for COPD?

    Diagnosing COPD includes a physical exam in which the doctor looks for common symptoms of COPD, such as breathlessness, excessive sputum or  a chronic cough,  as well as pulmonary function and imaging tests. However, people can feel healthy in the early stages of COPD, which makes diagnosis difficult. Pulmonary function tests detect changes in lung volume. If a lung function test is done in the early stages of COPD, it will not detect any changes, as this is a symptom of later stages of lung damage. Therefore, doctors and patients may assume nothing is wrong.


    Why is early detection important?

    COPD is a chronic, progressive disease that in later stages causes lung damage, such as air trapping – air that cannot be exhaled due to over-inflation of the alveoli – and emphysema, which is caused by holes in the lung that are filled with air and reduce the lung surface area. Early detection and treatment will not stop the progression of the disease, but it can slow it down, offering COPD patients a better quality of life for many years.

Published On: May 15, 2012