Simple survey helps identify those at high risk of COPD

July 5, 2016 Providence Health Team

South American researchers say a simple set of questions can identify people at risk of contracting chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), even when they show no symptoms.

In an article published in the journal Respirology, researchers said they found answers to seven questions helped predict which patients would be categorized as having COPD when they took a spirometry test. The test measures the volume of air exhaled by the lungs.

The predictive factors are:

  • Gender
  • Age
  • Pack-years of smoking (A pack-year is defined as 20 cigarettes smoked every day for one year.)
  • Dyspnoea, or breathlessness
  • Presence of sputum
  • A cough
  • Whether the patient had previously taken a spirometry test

A score based on those factors predicted with 76 percent accuracy which patients could be classified as having COPD.

The study covered 1,743 patients in Argentina, Colombia, Venezuela and Uruguay.

How COPD affects sufferers

COPD impairs breathing because of damaged lungs. It is most often caused by smoking, which takes a toll on the lungs’ ability to function efficiently. It is often a mix of two diseases: emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and sometimes, asthma.

The disease gets worse over time and damage to the lungs can’t be undone. It is most prevalent among people who are older and who have smoked, or had extensive exposure to harmful airborne particles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says COPD was the third-leading cause of death in the United States in 2011 and that 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with the disease. Many people aren’t aware that they have COPD.

The primary symptoms of COPD are:

  • A long-lasting (chronic) cough
  • Mucus that comes up when you cough
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse when you exercise

As COPD gets worse, even simple tasks get harder. Breathing takes more energy and people often lose weight and get weaker. Some people take supplemental oxygen.

Flare-ups can occur, when the symptoms worsen sharply. Sometimes these are treated with medications.

Living with COPD

Experts say COPD sufferers can limit the effects of the disease by avoiding things that irritate their lungs. This especially means they should stop smoking, but experts also advise sufferers to use air filters in their homes, get as much exercise as they can and eat well to keep up their strength.

People with COPD are more vulnerable to infections, so experts advise they get a flu shot each year.

Further reading

You can read about the South American study in Respirology.

You can read an article about COPD in the Providence Health Library. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a set of fact sheets and statistics about COPD.

To discuss your breathing, take a spirometry test or learn about COPD, talk with your health care provider. You can find a Providence provider here.

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