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15 Million in U.S. Have COPD, a Lung Disease

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 21 (HealthDay News) -- Fifteen million U.S. adults have diagnosed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and many more may have the debilitating condition but not know it, a new report says.

COPD is the name for a group of progressive lung diseases, including bronchitis and emphysema, that make it difficult to breathe.

Last year, 6.3 percent of U.S. adults reported having COPD. The prevalence ranged from a high of 9.3 percent in Kentucky to a low of 3.9 percent in Washington state. Incidence increased with age, with close to 12 percent of people 65 and older nationwide reporting COPD, according to a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Some experts welcomed the report, said to be the first state-by-state analysis of COPD.

"COPD continues to be overlooked and underdiagnosed in the U.S.," said Dr. Len Horovitz, a pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Cigarette smoking is the main cause of COPD in the United States, and 75 percent of those who reported having the disease last year were current or former smokers. The report also said that 39 percent of adults with COPD continued to smoke.

Two-thirds of adults diagnosed with COPD said that shortness of breath affected their quality of life. The disease can make it difficult to work and lead to lost income, the report noted. About 18 percent of COPD patients said the disease had resulted in an emergency department visit or hospitalization in the past year.

Smokers with COPD should talk to their doctor about ways to quit smoking, said the authors of the study, published in the Nov. 23 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

But smokers aren't the only people who develop COPD, Horovitz said. "While the relationship to smoking is clear, it is well known that COPD can develop in nonsmokers, especially in urban areas," he said. "Certain jobs involving inhalants also contribute to the incidence of COPD."

A simple breathing test -- spirometry -- done in the doctor's office can uncover these patients, Horovitz added.

Adults with COPD symptoms (wheezing, shortness of breath or sputum production) should talk to their doctor, the report authors said.

The researchers also urged states to launch educational campaigns in areas where COPD is more common. There is no cure for COPD, but there are ways to manage it and improve patients' quality of life, they noted.

More information

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has more about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCES: Len Horovitz, M.D., pulmonary specialist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news release, Nov. 21, 2012

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