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COPD Rates May Rise as Population Ages

Researchers Say Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Will Become 3rd or 4th Leading Cause of Death

COPD Around the World

Buist, Mannino and colleagues derived their worldwide COPD prevalence estimates from examinations of 9,425 people in their 40s and older living in 12 countries: China, Austria, Turkey, South Africa, Iceland, Germany, Poland, Norway, Canada, the Philippines, Australia, and the U.S.

The rate of moderate to severe COPD was found to be 10.1% overall -- 11.8% for men and 8.5% for women.

COPD risk nearly doubles every decade after people reach 40, and this was reflected in the much higher rates of disease among people in their 70s and older.

Rates of moderate to severe COPD were 20% or higher among men in this age group in nine of the 12 countries included in the study.

The lowest incidence of moderate to severe disease in the study among the elderly was 19.2% in the U.S. The highest rate was 46.6% in the Philippines.

Mannino tells WebMD that as high as these figures are, they may not reflect the true burden of COPD.

"The figures may not include the oldest and sickest patients, so there may be more disease out there than we were able to measure," he says.

Mannino acknowledges that the new prevalence estimates paint a grim picture of the future in terms of COPD burden. But he says much has been learned about the disease over the past few years that can help patients.

There is a growing recognition that COPD affects organs other than the lungs, and many clinicians are taking a more holistic approach to its treatment than they have in the past.

"An important intervention for early COPD other than smoking cessation is to put patients on [cholesterol-lowering] statins if they need them, because most patients with early disease die of cardiovascular causes than of respiratory disease," Mannino says. "Exercise is also important. From my perspective, maintaining an active lifestyle may be the best intervention of all."

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