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Failure to diagnose is high with COPD

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is used to describe a group of lung diseases that includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The damage done to the lungs by these conditions is irreversible, but it can be arrested through treatment -- especially if it is diagnosed early. However, the failure to diagnose COPD in its early stages is high. Part of the reason for this is that primary care doctors here in Illinois and across the country tend to underutilize spirometry (a test used to determine lung function). 

COPD is no longer considered to be an "old man's" disease. Many younger people and women are suffering from it than in the past. Doctors need to identify at-risk patients and take the time to question them about activity levels and symptoms. What a patient might consider just to be a "smoker's cough" could actually be the beginnings of COPD.

Spirometry could also help to identify problems early. Once the disease is diagnosed, a treatment program including smoking cessation, medication and pulmonary rehabilitation can help manage symptoms and stop any further damage from occurring. Unfortunately, far too many patients do not receive the proper diagnosis and treatment until they have lost approximately 40 to 50 percent of their lung function, which is considered moderate to severe COPD.

When Illinois patients who smoke go to their doctors complaining of chronic bronchitis, shortness of breath or a persistent cough, among other breathing issues, they expect their doctors to take the time to make the correct diagnosis. Sadly, that does not always happen. A failure to diagnose COPD in its early stages can cause severe damage to a patient's lungs and have a profound effect on his or her life -- especially since the damage cannot be reversed.

Source:, "Primary care plays key role in COPD early diagnosis, coordinated care", Mark L. Fuerst, Nov. 3, 2016

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