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24 Million in U.S. Have Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease;
Estimated 58% Undiagnosed;
In 2000 More Women Died Than Men

For Immediate Release

DALLAS (October 28, 2002) - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, now affects about 24 million Americans, most of them past or current smokers. Nearly 58 percent do not even know they may have the disease, say new statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In 2000, for the first time, the number of women dying from COPD surpassed the number of men,” says David M. Mannino, MD. Dr. Mannino is the lead author of The Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Surveillance - United States, 1971-2000, reprinted in this month’s issue of RESPIRATORY CARE.

“These are indeed sobering findings,” says David J. Pierson, MD, FAARC, editor in chief of RESPIRATORY CARE, the science journal for respiratory therapists, physicians and others in respiratory medicine. “Not only do these new statistics reveal that the disease is on the rise and becoming more prevalent, but it also illustrates the true impact of tobacco smoking on the health of U.S. citizens, and most particularly on women.”

The statistics are grim. In 2000, COPD was responsible for 8 million physician office and hospital outpatient visits, 1.5 million emergency department visits, 726,000 hospitalizations, and 119,000 deaths. In May 2001, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute said that the cost of COPD in both direct and indirect costs for the year 2000 was nearly $30.4 billion.

The fact that the disease is now becoming more prevalent in women is also worrisome. In the past, more men then women died from long-term smoking in a single year, but in 2000, according to the data, out of the 119,000 COPD deaths, 59,936 were women.

It’s important to note, men are still more likely than women to die from the disease as substantiated by population-based mortality rates, says Dr. Mannino, who is affiliated with the Division of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health, at the CDC.

“These data indicate that the majority of the undiagnosed COPD cases are in the mild or moderate stages,” Dr. Pierson says. “It is during these early stages that treatment can have its greatest impact on the prognosis and future quality of life.”

COPD is relatively easy to diagnose, says Dr. Mannino. Yet the disease is apparently underdiagnosed in its most treatable forms. “Early detection of COPD might alter its course and prognosis. The National Lung Health Education Program, a new health initiative, encourages primary care physicians to use simple office spirometry to measure pulmonary function among current and former smokers who are 45 or older.”

What Is COPD?
COPD is a slow, progressive disease that is characterized by a decrease in the ability of the lungs to move air in and out and to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide, resulting in decreased lung function. It is also commonly called emphysema, and involves both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, Dr. Pierson says.

The disease, primarily caused by smoking, may take years to take its devastating toll on the body. Those who have the disease may not notice the first symptoms of shortness of breath until they are in their 40s, 50s or even later. However, earlier signs, such as chronic cough and increased mucus production, are often present.

Other risk factors include asthma, exposure to ambient pollutants in the home and workplace and respiratory infections are also key factors, Dr. Mannino says.

“It’s important to have your lungs tested if you are a current or former smoker and are over 45,” Dr. Pierson says. “Spirometry, a simple test of lung function, should be available in clinics and primary caregivers’ offices as well as in hospital pulmonary function laboratories. Your physician will be able to test you or direct you to a pulmonary function laboratory during your next office visit. The earlier you do this, the better.”

RESPIRATORY CARE is the official science journal of the American Association for Respiratory Care. Respiratory Care’s mission is to disseminate information, viewpoints and questions about respiratory disease, research, clinical and laboratory practice, education and management of resources relative to patient care science.

The AARC is made up of respiratory care professionals from all over the world and represents some 30,000 members. As the leading respiratory professional membership association, the AARC focuses primarily on respiratory therapy education and research. Its goals are to ensure that respiratory patients receive safe and effective care from qualified professionals. The Association also advocates, on behalf of pulmonary patients, for appropriate access to respiratory services provided by qualified professionals.

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Sherry Milligan
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