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The burden of COPD

Globally, around 251 million cases of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) have been reported in 2016, causing an estimated 3.17 million deaths in 2015. As stated, in Europe, 15-20 % of the population can be assumed to be affected by COPD, with 5-10 % of them living with moderate or severe COPD.

COPD creates an estimated annual cost of around 141.4 billion euro. The monetised value of DALYS (Disability Adjusted Life Years) alone can be estimated at around 98 billion euro.

COPD is more than a smokers’ coughs

COPD is not one single disease but an umbrella term used to describe chronic lung diseases that cause limitations in lung airflow. It is diagnosed with a spirometry test, measuring how well the lungs are working.

The spirometry test allows differentiating four stages of COPD, from mild COPD (Stage I) to very severe COPD (Stage IV). This enables a physician in prescribing an appropriate treatment protocol. The stages do not, however, determine life-expectancy or its impact on one’s quality of life.

COPD mainly affects people over 40 years old and becomes more common with increasing age. The average age for COPD to be formally diagnosed is around 67 years. It used to affect men rather than women, however the numbers have equalised during the last few years.

Triggers & Symptoms

Air pollution may cause the development of COPD. However, WHO estimates tobacco smoke to be the primary cause, whereas COPD is predicted to be the third leading cause of death by 2030. Lifelong smokers have a 50% probability of developing COPD during their lifetime. 

COPD causes inflammation of the lungs, damages lung tissue and narrows the airways. The most common symptoms are breathlessness, an increased effort to breathe, heaviness or a ‘need for air’, excessive mucus, chronic cough and fatigue.

Over time, the ability to breathe decreases and daily activities may become more difficult. COPD patients experience difficulties when walking short distances, climbing stairs or doing the shopping.

Symptoms get worse when exercising, having a respiratory infection or during an exacerbation. At EFA we launched COPDMove, a video series of COPD patients explaining why exercise helps patients with COPD feel better. 

When the disease reaches high severity, patients might start receiving medical oxygen therapy, requiring oxygen tanks and a concentrator that reduces their mobility.

COPD – a case of co-morbidities

COPD is a classic example of a disease where comorbidities, several diseases at the same time, are frequent, such as diabetes and heart disease. In fact, COPD affects all organs because a lack of oxygen causes heart disease, which may often than not be a patients’ final cause of death. 

However, early detection and correct diagnosis and timely, effective and correct treatment may allow people to live with COPD for many years and enjoy life.