Seek early diagnosis of COPD to slow its progress
Charities are urging people who may be at risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) to visit their doctor and have a spirometry test in order to get an early diagnosis of the condition.
There are estimated to be 3 million people in the UK with COPD, which is characterised by an obstruction of the airways that leads to breathing difficulties.
About 900,000 people have been diagnosed with COPD, but approximately 2 million people have COPD that remains undiagnosed.
As a result, the British Lung Foundation is one of several charities that is using World COPD day, marked today, to urge people to visit their doctor.
The charity says that prompt diagnosis can ensure people receive the best treatment quickly to slow down progression of the disease and avoid expensive emergency care.
NICE's clinical guideline on the management of COPD echoes this and recommends that that GPs and practice nurses consider COPD as a possible diagnosis, if a person is over the age of 35, smokes or has smoked in the past, and presents with exertional breathlessness, chronic cough, produce regular sputum, have frequent winter ‘bronchitis' or wheeze.
The presence of any airflow obstruction should then be confirmed through post-bronchodilator spirometry. This involves using an instrument which measures the amount of air a person can blow out.
All healthcare professionals involved in the care of people with COPD should have access to spirometry and be competent in interpreting the results.
Dr Keith Prowse, Honorary Medical Adviser at the British Lung Foundation, said: "The big problem with COPD is that people don't know they have it. The spirometry test is very simple to use for diagnosis, and it is important that doctors follow the NICE guidelines as they provide steps that should be taken for correct diagnosis.
"If you miss out on any of these steps, then you may miss out on diagnosis and so not provide correct treatment.
"A diagnosis of COPD is not a lost cause. Early diagnosis will slow the progression of the disease through the use of simple agents.
"Stopping smoking, and programmes including physical activity can halt progress right down."
Early diagnosis, smoking cessation support and multidisciplinary rehabilitation programmes are all highlighted as requirements in NICE's quality standard on COPD.
This outlines high-quality, cost-effective care, that when delivered effectively, will improve the effectiveness, safety and experience of care for people with COPD.
16 November 2011