COPD Ignored by Doctors and Patients
New Approach Needed in Detecting and Treating Nation's No. 4 Killer: 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
"Test your lungs, know your numbers," says
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.