Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

COPD Health Center

Font Size

Many Unaware They Have COPD

2 in 3 With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Don't Know It
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

April 6, 2010 -- As many as two in three people with known risk factors for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) don't know that they have the disease.

A new study finds that about one in five heavy smokers over age 40 have findings of COPD, but only one-third have been previously diagnosed with the common lung disease.

"Underdiagnosis of COPD was frequent, which suggests a greater need for screening at-risk individuals," write researcher Kylie Hill, PhD, of the University of Toronto, and colleagues in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

COPD is a progressive and incurable disease that affects the lungs, making it more difficult to breathe. Advancing age and being a heavy smoker or having a history of cigarette smoking significantly increases the risk of developing COPD.

Recent studies have estimated that about 10% of people worldwide over the age of 40 are affected by COPD. In this study, researchers looked at the prevalence of the disease among people with known risk factors.

Researchers screened 1,003 people aged 40 and over who were current or former heavy smokers who visited a primary care clinic for any reason for signs of COPD using spirometry testing. Heavy smoking was defined as a smoking history of 20 pack-years or more. A pack-year is the number of packs smoked per day multiplied by the number of years smoked.

The results showed that 20.7% of the people screened met the criteria for a diagnosis of COPD but only 32.7% had previously been diagnosed with the disease or were aware of their COPD diagnosis.

Researchers say underdiagnosis of COPD has been reported in previous studies, but the extent of it in this study was especially striking given that all of the participants had two major risk factors for COPD.

They say early detection of COPD by screening people at risk, such as older heavy smokers, could offer more effective treatment options and reduce health care costs.

Today on WebMD

man talking to his doctor
Check your COPD risk.
woman using inhaler
What is the top cause of this condition?
chest x-ray
7 early warning signs.
Senior couple stretching
10 exercises for people With COPD.
Bronchitis Overview
Senior woman blowing dandelion
Living With Copd
human lung graphic
Energy Boosting Foods
red heart and ekg
Living With Copd
Senior couple stretching