COPD Rates May Rise as Population Ages
Researchers Say Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Will Become 3rd or 4th Leading Cause of Death
WebMD News Archive
Aug. 30, 2007 - The worldwide burden of chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD) is far greater than has previously been recognized, and it will
increase over the next few decades as the world population ages.
As many as 10% of adults aged 40 and older across the globe are believed to
have moderate to severe COPD, with rates more than double that among the
elderly, according to the most comprehensive studies of COPD prevalence
reported to date.
COPD kills 2.5 million people a year, according to World Health Organization
estimates. It is currently the fifth leading cause of death in high-income
countries like the U.S.
"It is expected to be the third or fourth leading cause of death by the
year 2020, but this epidemic is being completely ignored," respiratory
disease specialist Emiel Wouters, MD, PhD tells WebMD. "COPD is too often
dismissed as a self-inflicted disease of the old, when it needs to be thought
of as a treatable condition that is global."
COPD includes the lung diseases emphysema and chronic bronchitis. COPD makes
breathing more difficult and can worsen over time.
Smoking and Other COPD Causes
Respiratory infections and environmental and occupational exposures are
among the risk factors for the development of COPD.
But tobacco use and aging remain the major risk factors for the disease,
with smoking playing a role in about three out of four COPD deaths in
high-income countries like the U.S., according to figures from the World Health
The researchers concluded that the aging population coupled with better
treatments for other age-related diseases will lead to even higher rates of
COPD in years to come.
"In looking to the future, we cannot ignore the changing demographics of
the world's population and the reality that COPD is a disease of aging,"
researchers David M. Mannino, MD, and A. Sonia Buist, MD, wrote in the Sept. 1
issue of the journal The Lancet.
"Furthermore, if every smoker in the world were to stop smoking today,
the rates of COPD would probably continue to increase for the next 20
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
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.