New test to help detect and treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Australian doctors are pioneering a new test to help detect and treat one of the world's biggest killers - chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Used most often to describe emphysema, COPD is actually an overall term for any long-standing condition (including asthma) which impairs airflow in and out of the lungs. When chronic asthma develops into COPD, it typically means the lungs have become irreversibly damaged and scarred from repeated, untreated asthma flares - the result of airway remodeling. COPD is comprised primarily of two related diseases: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. In both diseases, the flow of air through the airways and out of the lungs is obstructed. The condition is permanent and worsens over time.

A new test, developed by researchers at Sydney's Woolcock Institute of Medical Research, can accurately measure how congested a patient's airways are and whether the COPD medication is working.

"Not only can we track their improvement over time but we can predict their improvement before we even start using the treatment long term," said Professor Norbert Berend, Woolcock Institute director.

So far 300,000 Australians have been diagnosed with COPD but doctors estimate there are a further 700,000 who do not know they have the condition.

In the United States, approximately 14.2 million people have been diagnosed with COPD.

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