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COPD Prevalence Stable, but Death Rate Declines in Men

CDC Report: COPD Prevalence Rate Relatively Unchanged in Previous Decade
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

June 29, 2011 -- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) remains a significant killer, according to a CDC report released today.

The report, which tracks COPD statistics from 1998 until 2009, states that although the overall prevalence rate of the disease has not changed significantly, the death rate did decline, but only for men. In 2007, COPD killed nearly 60,000 men and nearly 65,000 women.

According to the report, more than 5% of American adults -- or nearly 12 million people over the age of 18 -- had COPD in 2007-2009. Women make up the majority of that number, accounting for 7.4 million cases.

COPD is not a single disease. Instead, it comprises several diseases -- including emphysema and chronic bronchitis -- that block airflow from the lungs and make it difficult to breathe. Smoking contributes to most cases of the disease and as many as 90% of COPD-related deaths, according the American Medical Association. There is no cure, and once a person is diagnosed, treatment is focused on controlling symptoms and preventing the disease from progressing.

Older adults are the most likely to have the disease, and most people are generally diagnosed with it later in life. The disease was most common among women aged 65 to 74, and most common among men between ages 75 and 84. In nearly every age group, women with the disease were in the majority, according the CDC report.

Puerto Ricans and non-Hispanic whites had higher rates of COPD than other minorities. However, less than 3% of Mexican-Americans had the disease, the report says, the lowest of any group for which estimates are available.

Economics played a significant role in determining one’s risk of developing the disease.

“Adults with family income below the federal poverty level had the highest COPD prevalence,” the authors write. “Within each racial and ethnic group, COPD prevalence among poor adults (those with income less than 100% of the poverty level) was higher than for adults with income levels above the poverty level.”

In looking at rates of COPD regionally, Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Alabama had the highest rates. The lowest were reported in California, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Hawaii.

The best way to prevent COPD, which the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute says is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, is to quit smoking or, better still, to never start smoking.

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