Could Name Be to Blame For Low COPD Awareness?

Vol. 21 •Issue 14 • Page 8

Could Name Be to Blame For Low COPD Awareness?

Perhaps you saw the May 13 New York Times article “A Guided Tour of Your Body.” If so, you may know where this little tantrum is headed.

The Newspaper of Record was impressive enough describing the latest research on the brain, heart, skin, bones, joints and muscles. The editors also felt that our waists, mouths and feet all warranted extended coverage. Fine; those areas can certainly prove troublesome at times.

But when readers searched for news about the lungs—you might have heard of these: a pair of, like, air bags or something situated near the heart—they found an informational donut hole.

Times readers were left to conclude that nothing of import is taking place in the world of pulmonography—pulmonology, sorry. It was enough to give David Ingbar, MD, outgoing president of the American Thoracic Society (ATS), a near case of dyspnea.

“Who’s to blame for this?” Ingbar asked rhetorically at an ATS press conference last month. In his next breath, Ingbar mentioned a recent survey in which a disturbing number of respondents thought “COPD” stood for the Colorado Police Department.

Later, when he called for questions, I seized my chance. “Maybe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is too long a name to fix in the public’s consciousness,” I volunteered. “Has ATS leadership thought of going back to the term ’emphysema’?”

I know, I know: Technically, COPD is an umbrella term that refers also to chronic bronchitis. Ingbar’s response, though, went deeper.

The word “emphysema” has too much of a death sentence ring to it; we need to make people aware that COPD patients can be helped, he said.

“The image the public has is of end-stage disease; that they can’t get out of bed,” Ingbar noted. “We need to get around that image of end-stage hopelessness.”

Fair enough. But can’t we come up with a more dramatic, easier-to-recall name for a killer that, according to the World Health Organization, could claim 1 billion lives before the 21st century is out?

Maybe the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will succeed with its new campaign to raise public awareness of COPD. It’s a bit puzzling though that NIH spends almost as much per year researching West Nile Virus ($63 million) as COPD ($66 million), as incoming ATS President Jo Rae Wright, PhD, pointed out.

How Rodney Dangerfield-esque the 210 million people worldwide who have COPD must feel.

Even the medications many of them take are asthma prescriptions approved by the Food and Drug Administration for a second use for COPD.

Grace Anne Dorney Koppel, a COPD patient (and Ted Koppel’s wife), told ATS delegates she visited many clinics and “was given every test in the book, including proctology”—but not spirometry—before she was finally diagnosed.

“COPD,” Koppel declared, “is under-funded, under-diagnosed, ignored by the pharmaceutical industry and in 12 years will become the No. 3 killer in the world.”

Any move to increase public and governmental awareness of COPD “has to be personal for us to have an impact,” Ingbar told his fellow pulmonologists.

Maybe they should start by giving tobacco-related, irreversible airway obstruction a different name, a name with more punch to it than four letters of the alphabet, one that people will remember.

Any suggestions?

Michael Gibbons, senior associate editor, can be reached at [email protected].