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Contact: Kelli Hagen

Did You Know Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is the Fourth Leading Cause of Death in the United States?

Dallas, TX (Aug. 4, 2000) -- An estimated 110,000 people died last year from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). That's more than double the number of people who died in auto accidents, more than three times the number of people who died from accidents at home or work, and twenty-two times the number of people who died in fires. The number of people affected by COPD is staggering. Millions of Americans struggle against various types of lung disease every day to maintain "normal" levels of physical activity. However, far too many of these people eventually succomb to their illnesses.

COPD encompasses a group of lung disorders including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthmatic bronchitis. Each of these conditions is characterized by narrowing of the airways (bronchi) and loss of the lungs' elasticity. This airway narrowing, most often caused by smoking, develops slowly; however, early detection of COPD can help slow the progess of the disease and allow those diagnosed to live happier, more active lives.

To help make this a reality, respiratory therapists (RTs) across the United States will celebrate National Respiratory Care Week (RC Week) Sept. 10­16 by promoting early detection of COPD through routine lung function testing. According to the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC), this year's focus on regular COPD screening is long overdue.

"There are as many as 15 million people in the United States with undiagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease," says AARC Executive Director Sam Giordano. "What's more, the majority of these people will have been robbed of 20-40% of their lung function before they show any signs of the illness, like shortness of breath," he says.

Respiratory therapists routinely perform a type of lung function screeening that can identify early onset of COPD. Spirometry testing is used daily in doctor's offices across the country to help determine the severity of asthmatics' conditions, but thus far the test has rarely been used to detect COPD.

Louise Nett, RN, RRT, FAARC, research associate for the National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP), holds that respiratory therapists are the ideal medical professionals to educate the primary care physicians they work with in hospitals about the benefits of making spirometry a part of routine check-ups for their patients. "I'd like to see every respiratory therapy department in the country get interested in early detection and start working on a small scale within their hospitals with their primary care doctors to have educational days for them on spirometry and smoking cessation," she says.

This is exactly what the AARC's 50 state affiliate organizations, about 32,000 members strong, will be doing during the week of September 10. They will also be offering spirometry screenings in malls and shopping centers as well as in their hospitals and other healthcare facilities. RTs will host a variety of other events as well: walk-a-thons, "respiratory-health" fairs, tree-planting ceremonies, and open houses will be among the activities used to promote awareness of the respiratory therapist's vital role in the early detection of COPD as well as the importance of good respiratory health practices.

Helping the medical community and the public understand why respiratory therapists are so important has been an ongoing goal for AARC members. Their efforts have been bolstered by support from several physicians' groups. The American College of Chest Physicians has said that "because RTs have specialized training and experience, they play a vital role in the coordination and utilization of respiratory care services."


The AARC is a professional membership association for respiratory therapists. Respiratory therapists work under the direction of a physician and assist in the diagnosis, treatment and management of patients with pulmonary disorders. The AARC provides educational programs to the respiratory care community and promotes the art and science of respiratory care to healthcare consumers and other healthcare professionals.