Bad News and Good News for COPD

Health Professional

Late last year the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) released a report confirming that Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is now the third leading cause of death in the U.S; this, after COPD had previously been projected to reach number three in the year 2020. Often when a projected estimation is achieved twelve years sooner than expected, it's a sign of something positive. In this case, it's not good news at all.   The report, "Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2008," tells us more specifically, that COPD increased by 7.8 percent while stroke fell 3.8 percent.


So, why are we not seeing the same type of decrease in mortality caused by COPD as we are in heart disease, cancer and stroke - but in fact, seeing a significant increase? It is due, in large part, to lack of awareness of COPD as well as a stunning lack of funding for research. Another reason is that the rate of COPD diagnosis is so low. It is estimated that 24 million people in US have COPD, while only 12 million have been diagnosed. You can't receive the best possible treatment if you're not properly diagnosed.

Good News
Yet, there is good news - and hope - for people with COPD.

  • COPD is almost always preventable and almost always treatable.

  • Diagnosis for COPD is relatively easy, quick and inexpensive, and with a simple test (Spirometry, sometimes called a Pulmonary Function Screen), people with COPD can take action to prevent the worsening of symptoms.

There are several initiatives taking hold, designed to: 1.)Improve awareness, 2.)Increase the rate of early diagnosis, 3.)Lead to improved funding for COPD research. Here are a few.

Drive 4 COPD is a major public awareness campaign. Thanks to this project, over 800,000 people have been screened for COPD so far!

  • World COPD Day and COPD Awareness Month take place in November of each year.
  • Learn More Breathe Better Campaign The goals of COPD: Learn More Breathe Better are to increase awareness of COPD as a serious lung disease, increase understanding that COPD is treatable, and to encourage at-risk individuals to take a simple breathing test and talk to their doctors about treatment options.
  • COPD Managed Care programs are now being seen as a valuable component in organizations providing health insurance.
  • COPD Caucus - The Congressional COPD Caucus is a bipartisan group of lawmakers working together to actively push for COPD awareness and promote government policies to improve the lives of COPD patients. Is your representative a member of the COPD Caucus?

COPD Postage Stamp - Who says one person can't make a difference? Our friend Lori Palermo is on a mission to have a COPD postage stamp become a reality.

There are many other programs taking place aimed at turning around the dismal statistics on COPD, and we've got a lot of work to do. It will be a long road and a lot of hard work, but if I've learned one thing in working with people with COPD, it's that they never give up. On we go, pressing for greater awareness, early diagnosis, more effective treatment and research funding that is in line with the enormous prevalence of this disease.

Ask yourself: Could I have COPD?

  • Do I cough on most days?
  • Do I bring up phlegm on most days?
  • Do I get out of breath more easily than others my age?
  • Am I 45 years or older?
  • Am I a current smoker or an ex-smoker?
  • Do I have history of environmental chemicals, dust, or fumes in my environment or workplace, heavy or long-term contact with secondhand smoke or other lung irritants?
  • Is there a history of lung disease in my family?

If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, talk with your doctor today about getting tested for COPD.

What is COPD? (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, bronchiectasis and adult onset refractory (uncontrolled, severe) asthma. Symptoms include breathlessness, wheezing, and chronic coughing. Smoking is not the only cause of COPD. Second-hand smoke, occupational and environmental dust and chemicals, air pollution, and genetic factors can also cause COPD.

Graphs provided by COPD Alert.

Jane M. Martin is a licensed respiratory therapist, teacher and the founder and director of and author of Breathe Better, Live in Wellness and Live Your Life With COPD, scheduled for release Spring, 2011.