Cancer Center
Lung cancer

COPD Patients Don't Know Enough About The Illness

A new national survey of patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) shows a surprising lack of awareness of risk factors and knowledge of diagnosis stage. That lack of knowledge, researchers says, has a significant impact on patients’ quality of life, employment and ability to afford treatment.

COPD, the third most common cause of death in the United States, describes a group of lung conditions that severely impact the breathing of nearly 15 million people in the U.S. (or six percent of the population) and more than 65 million worldwide.

According to a study conducted by the organization Health Union, only 38% of respondents were aware of COPD or its risk factors prior to their diagnosis. Almost one-third did not know their initial or current diagnosis stage. And at diagnosis about two-thirds wished they knew more about the potential impact of COPD and how to stop or slow down its progression. “I think if asked, most people actually realize that smoking causes disease. However, the survey reveals that important information about the variety and severity of these types of disease is not reaching those at risk for COPD,” says Leon C. Lebowitz, respiratory therapist and moderator. “When armed with information, patients do take steps to change their lives. The survey shows that post diagnosis 68% of those that were current smokers quit and an additional 15% were trying to quit smoking. That’s huge.”

COPD clearly affects all aspects of life. Eighty-seven percent of respondents with COPD say they were unable to do as much as they could prior to acquiring the disease, with 32% needing some form of help from a caregiver. In addition, respiratory infections, high blood pressure, and depression were frequently experienced among respondents.

COPD and the accompanying breathing difficulties can make everyday physical activities like walking and even talking extremely difficult. There is currently no known way to undo the damage to the lungs.

“This survey illustrates the need for more COPD awareness and education amongst the general public and patients as well,” said Tim Armand, president and co-founder of Health Union. “As the incidence of COPD continues to grow, hopefully educational efforts like COPD in America and the new website can bridge the information gap and ultimately improve care.”

The COPD In America survey was conducted online in April of 2015 with 1,009 respondents who were diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and were U.S. citizens either living in the U.S. or abroad.


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