Are Americans Aware of COPD?

Many Americans felt like they knew former first lady Barbara Bush, whose death the country mourned this month. But how much do we as a nation know about the disease that killed her?

It was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD.

Nearly 16 million Americans have the disease, and millions more remain undiagnosed. Mortality rates for most other chronic conditions have declined, yet those for COPD have doubled since 1969.

Experts recently convened to discuss this fatal trend and the impact of COPD. The gathering, organized by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, focused on challenges, opportunities and resources for the COPD National Action Plan in rural communities.

Patients often lack access to credible health information, which is why a primary focus of the National Plan is to increase public awareness of COPD risks and symptoms. This effort includes teaching patients, their families and caregivers to visit a doctor when they experience symptoms like coughing, shortness of breath and wheezing. Acting early is in best interest of patients’ long-term health.

Unfortunately, limited access to clinics and doctors’ offices can lead patients to wait until there’s an emergency before seeking care. And delaying treatment can result in the loss of lung function. Sharing knowledge about potential negative outcome like this is another component of raising awareness. It also bolsters efforts to increase access to care.

The National Plan also targets health professionals with a twofold goal. First, it aims to increase the number of doctors who talk about and screen for COPD risk factors like tobacco use during patient visits. Second, it focuses on increased access to validated treatments like pulmonary rehabilitation.

Also known as respiratory rehabilitation, pulmonary rehabilitation helps people with COPD manage their symptoms. Despite findings that show this is a cost effective care approach, it’s not widely accessible. This is especially true in rural communities, where prevalence and mortality rates of COPD are higher, as compared to urban areas.

Other National Plan goals aim to increase collection and analysis of data, sustain research efforts and translate policy recommendations into action.

The National Plan could change how COPD impacts Americans, both famous figures and everyday folks. After all, the White House may not be within reach for everyone, but access to health information and medical treatment should be.


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