Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease sending more people to hospital

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) has a higher hospitalization rate and a higher hospital readmission rate than heart failure, angina, and other serious chronic diseases.

Now, new survey results confirm that COPD affects many more Canadians than previously estimated (1.5 million) - and that 69 per cent of Canadians have not heard of COPD. In addition to this, 1.6 million Canadians 40 years or older may currently have undiagnosed COPD based on The Lung Health Test(2), which means 3 million Canadians may have COPD. The Lung Association released this data today to coincide with World COPD Day and its national awareness campaign.

"The numbers we continue to see are staggering. The impact to COPD patients and their families can be devastating," said Nora Sobolov, President & CEO of The Lung Association. "More than ever we urgently need a comprehensive and national strategy to address all lung health issues, especially COPD. Now is the time to make this disease a priority." For people with COPD, flare ups or exacerbations can be brought on by something as simple as a common cold, change in weather, or poor air quality. Often, these flare ups can result in emergency room visits, longer-term hospital stays and, in serious cases, death.

"We have many treatments to manage COPD and reduce hospital admissions; they work best when we catch people early," said Dr. Paul Hernandez, Chair of the Canadian Thoracic Society's COPD Guideline Implementation Committee. "We should be screening the at-risk population more aggressively, so COPD can be caught earlier. We can't emphasize enough the importance of early diagnosis and disease management."

A simple breathing test called spirometry is used to confirm the diagnosis of COPD. When this test is performed in the disease's early stages outcomes of COPD can be improved. "We know that people with COPD can live better. Medication and pulmonary rehabilitation can make a big difference in their quality of life," said Dr. Hernandez. Pulmonary rehabilitation is a specialized exercise, education, nutritional counseling and psychological and social support program geared to patients with long-term respiratory diseases like COPD. Although pulmonary rehabilitation is considered a cornerstone of COPD disease management, not everyone who needs it has access to rehabilitation facilities. COPD patient, Doug Cooper understands first-hand how walking on the treadmill and participating in pulmonary rehabilitation can keep him out of the emergency room. "If you let it, this disease robs you of your life. For most Canadians, they exercise to lose weight. For me, I do it to live and to stay out of the hospital. That's pretty big motivation and I wish everyone living with COPD had access to the service I do."

World COPD Day in Canada

To mark World COPD Day on November 19th, The Lung Association is conducting a virtual trek across Canada with people who live with COPD and the people who have been touched by the disease. The Coast 2 Coast Challenge will join people from across Canada in a national effort to raise awareness of COPD. This, in spite of the fact that many of these COPDers will be struggling to breathe with every step they take. When the Coast 2 Coast challenge ends on World COPD Day, participants will have logged thousands of kilometers all in the hopes of raising awareness for the need of early COPD diagnosis through a simple breathing test called spirometry.

The research demonstrated that COPD awareness among Canadians continues to be low. Sixty-nine per cent of Canadians have not heard of COPD. Compared to other major causes of death in Canada such as cancer or heart attack or stroke, awareness remains far too low. Global studies show COPD affects up to 10 per cent of some populations(3).

Other Survey Findings

  • Forty-three per cent of Canadians don't know that COPD can kill you
  • More than half of those with COPD say the condition interferes with sleep (59%) and day-to-day activities (53%)

COPD is a potentially devastating respiratory disease that causes lung damage and obstructs, or 'blocks' the airways. COPD is sometimes referred to as emphysema or chronic bronchitis and is primarily caused by smoking; however, a small percentage of COPD patients have the disease due to other factors.

Assessing Those At Risk: The Lung Health Test

Introduced to the public by the Lung Association in 2003, the Lung Health Test is a tool designed to help Canadians recognize the symptoms of COPD. Canadians who are over 40 and are current or ex-smokers should visit their doctor if they answer "yes" to any of the following questions:

  • Do you cough regularly?
  • Do you cough up phlegm regularly?
  • Do even simple chores make you short of breath?
  • Do you wheeze when you exert yourself, or at night?
  • Do you get frequent colds that persist longer than those of other people you know?

A simple breathing test, called spirometry, is used to diagnose COPD. When this test is performed in the disease's early stages, outcomes of COPD can be improved. Spirometry involves blowing into a tube to calculate the amount of air the lungs can hold and the rate at which the air is expelled.

For the fourth year and to coincide with World COPD Day, The Lung Association in collaboration with the Canadian Thoracic Society, Canadian Respiratory Health Professionals and the Canadian COPD Alliance are releasing new COPD research results. The research is made possible by an unrestricted educational grant from Boehringer Ingelheim Canada Ltd. and Pfizer Canada Inc. Leger Marketing conducted this study among 1,511 Canadians 18 years of age or older. The margin of error for a sample of this size is +/-2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

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The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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