COPD Awareness Gaining Ground

Vol. 19 • Issue 12 • Page 9

First Thoughts

Awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is on the rise, according to an annual survey conducted on behalf of the COPD Learn More Breathe Better campaign. But we still have a long way to go.

Thirty percent of those surveyed never heard of COPD, the fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. More than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD, and another 12 million may have COPD but don’t recognize its signs and symptoms.

“The message is very clear,” said James P. Kiley, PhD, director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Division of Lung Diseases. “We need to keep up the efforts of the COPD Learn More Breathe Better campaign. We’d like 100 percent awareness of this disease.”

The NHLBI founded the campaign in 2007, and its efforts appear to be gaining ground. The survey conducted this summer showed that the number of Americans who report being aware of COPD increased by 4 percentage points between 2008 and 2010. The campaign’s messages help at-risk individuals identify COPD symptoms and encourage them to speak with their health care provider. When appropriate, the physician can use spirometry to assess if the patient has reduced lung function.

“The earlier we identify individuals who have symptoms, the sooner they can get on an appropriate treatment and management plan that can improve their quality of life and slow the detrimental, negative effects of this disease,” Dr. Kiley said.

The COPD Learn More Breathe Better campaign is launching a series of public service announcements to intensify its awareness efforts. The PSAs emphasize common COPD symptoms: frequent shortness of breath, chronic cough, wheezing, and excessive phlegm.

Respiratory therapists see the consequences of these symptoms firsthand and have a critical role in providing high quality care for patients with COPD. Because RTs are frontline ambassadors for lung health, Dr. Kiley encourages you to promote two key COPD awareness messages at all times: Don’t smoke, and those who have a history of smoking should get their lungs tested. Resources to help health care professionals get these conversations started are available at

“RTs can truly make a difference every day in outreach activities beyond the workplace,” Dr. Kiley said.

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