Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) will finally get its day in the sun! The new initiative of the Lung Division of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute was launched in Bethesda, Maryland, the home of our National Institutes of Health. In August 1994, I was honored to be asked to help organize and chair this 2-1/2 day program. After a year of planning many of the experts in COPD in the United States and Canada met at a workshop entitled A Building a National Strategy for the Prevention, Management and Research in COPD in late August 1995. COPD still continues to grow as a major cause of disability and death in this country and elsewhere in the world; COPD is the fourth most common cause of death and it ranks second as a cause of disability in the United States. In all, COPD has at least a 60 billion dollar impact on our annual economy.
COPD is a smokers disease which clusters in families and worsens with age. The risk of COPD from smoking is about equal in men and women. In fact, women may be even more susceptible to the harmful effects of tobacco smoking than men; women tend to develop COPD at an earlier age and with less smoking than in men. If women start to develop COPD it usually progresses faster than in men and death may occur at an earlier age. Women suffer from associated lung cancer, just like men.
Both COPD and associated lung cancer are preventable diseases, yet both continue to rise each year because of smoking. Hopefully the new National COPD program will be successful and will convince all physicians and their assistants to ask about smoking and family, and occupational risk of COPD and lung cancer. Hopefully, they will measure simple spirometric tests which can tell the presence and extent of disease by recording the airflow and air volume that people can expel following a full, deep breath. Two simple tests of airflow and air volume can tell in a matter of minutes, when COPD is just starting. These pulmonary function tests can be a motivating factor in stopping smoking, which will prevent the development of COPD into its symptomatic and disabling stages. These same tests also identify persons at risk of lung cancer, heart attack, and stroke. The time has arrived to prevent COPD and its associated disease states.
I'll be in touch next month.
Thomas Petty, MD