Nearly two-thirds of smokers are not concerned about developing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of smokers are not concerned about developing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), America’s fourth ranking cause of death even though more than half of them (55 percent) experience at least one of the symptoms of COPD a minimum of once a week.

This is according to a national independent survey conducted on behalf of the American Lung Association and ALTANA Pharma US.

“The survey results are alarming. A majority of smokers who could have COPD are ignoring the signs,” said Dr. Norman Edelman, medical consultant for the American Lung Association and vice president for Health Sciences and professor of medicine at SUNY Stony Brook University. “As the most common cause of COPD, smoking is responsible for 80 to 90 percent of all COPD deaths. COPD claims the lives of more than 120,000 Americans annually. Smokers and their friends and family need to recognize and address this problem.”

COPD is a term referring to a large group of lung diseases characterized by obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing. Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the most important conditions that compose COPD and they may co-exist, hence physicians prefer the term COPD. Primary symptoms of COPD include chronic cough, shortness of breath, a greater effort to breathe, increased mucus production, and frequent clearing of the throat.

For their second annual educational partnership to raise public awareness about COPD and the importance of early diagnosis, the American Lung Association and ALTANA Pharma US have launched the “Hungry For Air: Care. Share. Commit.” care packages designed to encourage smokers and friends and family members of smokers to become more knowledgeable of COPD and to seek diagnosis and treatment options that may help lead to longer, more active lives. Care packages are available by calling 1-877-COPD-INFO or by clicking here.

It is estimated that COPD will be the third largest cause of death worldwide by 2020. “Despite the fact that COPD deaths have increased in the United States over the past three decades, more than half (51 percent) of smokers are unaware of the disease,” Dr. Edelman said.

Additionally Dr. Edelman points to recent data indicating that for the third consecutive year, the number of deaths due to COPD was higher among women than men. “In 2002 61,422 females died compared to 59,133 males,” Dr. Edelman said. “The number one way to slow the progression of this disease is to stop smoking.”

According to estimates by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, chronic bronchitis and emphysema take a heavy toll on the economy. In 2004, the annual cost to the nation for COPD was $37.2 billion. This included $20.9 billion in direct health care expenditures, $7.4 billion in indirect morbidity costs, and $8.9 billion in indirect mortality costs.

According to the national survey, 10 percent of smokers have a relative or close friend who has been diagnosed with COPD; however, Dr. Edelman suggests that the actual number is probably much higher due to the fact that many cases of COPD go undiagnosed. According to the American Lung Association, in 2002, 11.2 million adults in the United States were estimated to have COPD, however 24 million adults revealed evidence of impaired lung function, which indicates that COPD is undiagnosed in nearly half the people that may have it. “Many smokers or ex-smokers may harbor feelings of guilt, shame, or fear and will often ignore or misinterpret the signs of COPD,” Dr. Norman Edelman said. “That said, family and friend support can go a long way in encouraging someone to consult with their physician or ask to see a pulmonologist. Early diagnosis can open the door to treatment options that can improve the quality of life.”

“Patients often tell me they feel hungry for air and it feels like they are breathing through a straw,” said Dr. Edelman. To symbolize this statement and to help people easily pass along information to their friends and family, the American Lung Association and ALTANA Pharma US have developed a free care package that includes a 10-minute calling card; a “Hungry For Air: Sharing The Facts About COPD” informational card with COPD key facts and questions to ask; and a plastic drinking straw to illustrate how difficult it is to breathe when suffering from COPD.

The questions on the informational cards allow individuals to better determine if they have any of the symptoms associated with COPD. If “yes” is the answer to one or more of the questions, they are encouraged to ask their physician for a lung function test. Questions within the card include: Are you a current or former smoker; do you frequently experience a deep, chronic wet cough; when completing routine activities, such as climbing a flight of stairs, are you short of breath; do you live in a heavy smog/high-ozone area; and does your chest get tight in cold weather, or do you find it difficult to breathe in cold weather?

Other risk factors of COPD include occupational hazards, air pollution, second-hand smoke, history of childhood respiratory infections and heredity. “Researchers are identifying certain genetic traits that make individuals more likely to develop the disease,” Dr. Edelman said. “If you have a history of COPD in your family, you should run, not walk to your doctor and ask for a lung function test.”

Emerging evidence indicates that COPD also is a disease of systemic inflammation dominated by the production of neutrophils, which may cause epithelial and endothelial damage and lung remodeling.

“Supporting vital research is one way people can help victims of this disease,” said Dr. Edelman, “In the meantime, we cannot stress enough the importance of early diagnosis for this debilitating disease and sometimes our friends and family can offer just the right encouragement to get treatment early.”

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