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Study: 1 in 4 People Likely to Develop COPD

Researchers Say Risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Is Higher for Men Than Women
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Calculating COPD Risk continued...

The study did not address the specific risk to smokers. Previous estimates have suggested that between 15% and 50% of longtime smokers develop COPD.

The latest findings indicate that the real figure is closer to 50% than 15%, University of Michigan Health System professor of internal medicine Fernando J. Martinez, MD, tells WebMD.

In an editorial published with the study, Martinez wrote that the findings highlight the largely unrecognized burden of the disease.

The study and editorial appear in the Sept. 10 issue of The Lancet.

"Until recently, there has been little public awareness about COPD and the disease has received few resources from funding agencies," he writes. "The amount spent on research per case of COPD still lags behind that of other chronic and malignant diseases."

Not Just a Smoker's Disease

Gershon says the perception that only smokers get COPD may explain why it has not received the same funding for research as diseases of comparable burden.

"We know that this is not just a disease of smokers," she says. "It is true that most patients are smokers or former smokers, but people who have never smoked also get it."

Recent research suggests that children with asthma may have an increased risk for COPD later in life.

Martinez says the link between asthma and COPD should be a central focus of future research.

Pulmonary specialist Len Horovitz, MD, of New York City's Lenox Hill Hospital, says more research is also needed to understand nonsmoking-related causes of COPD.

He tells WebMD that about one in 10 of his COPD patients are not longtime smokers or former smokers.

"People need to realize that even if they don't smoke, they could get COPD," he says. "Anyone with a job or hobby that involves inhaling noxious [fumes] might be at risk."

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