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Americans Gaining Awareness of COPD: Survey

Yet half of those with lung disease symptoms remain undiagnosed, experts say

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Most Americans are aware of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), but less than half know that the serious lung disease can be treated, according to national survey results released this week by the U.S. government as part of National COPD Awareness Month in November.

COPD affects 20 percent of U.S. adults over age 45. Half of the 24 million people in the United States with COPD remain undiagnosed even though they have symptoms, such as wheezing, chronic cough, or shortness of breath while doing activities that used to be easy.

Smoking causes 80 percent of cases of COPD (including chronic bronchitis and emphysema), while the remaining cases are caused by other environmental exposures or genetics.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute 2009 survey of 4,172 adults found that 68 percent of respondents were aware of COPD, compared with 64 percent last year and 49 percent in 2004. Among current smokers, awareness of COPD was 74 percent, compared with 69 percent last year. About 41 percent of smokers don't talk to their doctors about COPD symptoms because they don't want to be told to quit smoking.

Only 44 percent of adults know that COPD can be treated, the survey found.

"Awareness is an important first step," James P. Kiley, director of the NHLBI's division of lung diseases, said in a news release from the institute. "However, awareness alone is not enough. People at risk of developing the disease need to know what the disease looks and feels like, and most importantly, to understand that it can be treated. The key is to get tested and start treatment as soon as possible."

Another survey of 1,000 doctors found that about 90 percent of primary care physicians believe that available treatments can optimize quality of life for patients with COPD, which can be diagnosed with a simple noninvasive breathing test called spirometry.

"We know that for many people, taking the step to talk to a doctor about their smoking and symptoms is difficult. But these actions, including testing of lung function, should be seen as proactive for better health," Kiley added.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about COPD.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, news release, Nov. 2, 2009

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