COPD Awareness Continues to Rise, New NIH Survey Finds

Awareness of COPD, the nation’s third leading killer, continues to rise in the United States, according to the results of a Web-based survey released by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health.

Seventy-one percent of surveyed adults said they are aware of COPD, compared with 65 percent in 2008. Awareness among those most at risk – current and former smokers – increased even more. Among current smokers, awareness rose to 78 percent, up from 69 percent in 2008. Awareness among former smokers rose to 76 percent, up from 68 percent in 2008.

COPD is estimated to affect 24 million men and women in the United States – but as many as half of them remain undiagnosed. “COPD is surpassing other diseases as a major killer in this country. We want to reverse this trend by educating people about the symptoms, so they can get proper treatment as early as possible,” said James P. Kiley, Ph.D., director of the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases. “It is not enough to have heard of COPD. Those at risk need to know the signs so they can talk to their health care provider about any breathing problems they are having and, hopefully, find relief. The real tragedy is that COPD symptoms are too often ignored. By the time an individual feels the symptoms are severe enough to warrant follow-up, they have often lost as much as half of their lung function.”

The NHLBI analyzed the results of the annual HealthStyles survey, which explores public health attitudes, knowledge, practices, and lifestyle habits. The latest survey, conducted in summer 2011, was a nationally representative sample of 4,161 consumers with a margin of error of 1.5 percentage points.

The NHLBI launched the COPD Learn More Breathe Better campaign in 2007 to increase awareness and improve knowledge about COPD among those already diagnosed and at risk for COPD as well as health care providers – particularly those in a primary care setting. One of the program’s latest efforts, Country Conquers COPD, aims to reach and raise knowledge of COPD among at-risk people at country-themed fairs and festivals across the nation.