Take a deep breath: COPD is worse than you thought

Every year, about 36 million people die from non-communicable diseases worldwide. While most attribute these deaths to heart disease and cancer, in fact, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is another major cause. Consisting of chronic progressive respiratory insufficiency due to chronic bronchitis and emphysema which is almost always attributable to cigarette smoking COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in our country, with about 130,000 fatalities in 2009.

In a new study published in The Lancet, researchers from the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto analyzed health records from Ontario s population of over 13 million people, focusing on those aged 35 and older who were not initially diagnosed with COPD. They analyzed data for that population group over the ensuing 14 years and found that, on average, the lifetime risk of developing COPD was actually double that of congestive heart failure, and up to four times greater than the risk of breast or prostate cancer. The incidence of physician-diagnosed COPD was nearly 30 percent in men and 25 percent in women; meanwhile, the lifetime risk of breast cancer was slightly over 7 percent and the risk of prostate cancer was about 9 percent.

Commenting on the results of the study, ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross explains that although many people are completely unaware of what it is, COPD is an incredibly common ailment and is far more prevalent than people think. However, it doesn t gain as much attention as many other less common ailments because it is perceived to affect mainly older cigarette smokers." He adds, "COPD is the most important disease after lung cancer that would decrease if smoking rates declined.