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COPD Ignored by Doctors and Patients

New Approach Needed in Detecting and Treating Nation's No. 4 Killer: COPD

Detecting COPD

Researchers say that early detection and treatment of COPD is the key to slowing the decline in lung function that occurs and preventing premature death from the disease.

That's why a new program initiated by the American College of Chest Physicians is targeting family doctors, internists, and other primary care providers to increase their awareness of COPD and encourage them to screen for this deadly disease as they would other chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

"In just the same way we identify people with high blood pressure, give them advice with lifestyle changes, and design the best treatment," says Michael C. Iannuzzi, MD, chief of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. "We have to have the same approach for COPD: measure, lifestyle change, treat."

Iannuzzi recommends that people with symptoms or risk factors for COPD, such as smoking, receive spirometry testing as a part of their regular health check-ups to screen for and diagnose COPD.

A spirometry test is a noninvasive test that measures lung function and is the only test that can confirm a suspected diagnosis of COPD. It involves exhaling into a machine attached to a computer that provides a measurement percentile based on the patient's age, height, and weight. Any number lower than 80% of the predicted measurement based on those factors is considered abnormal.

"Test your lungs, know your numbers," says Iannuzzi.

Treating COPD

Once a person is diagnosed with COPD, the single most effective treatment is smoking cessation.

"Drugs do not cure COPD. There is no pill that cures it. There is no spray that grows new lung, just as there is no pill that stops us from growing older," says Mark J. Rosen, MD, chief of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City.

Researchers say that stopping smoking is the only proven way to stop that accelerated loss of lung function that occurs in COPD. Once lung function is lost, it never comes back.

However, current treatments for COPD can significantly improve and extend the lives of people with it by targeting the symptoms of the disease, such as:

  • Improving shortness of breath
  • Lessening cough and sputum production
  • Reducing flare-ups of the disease
  • Reducing COPD-related hospitalizations
  • Improving the patient's overall quality of life

"Unfortunately, many physicians think the available treatment for COPD is limited, and it is not," says Iannuzzi.

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