COPD Affects Nearly 16 Million Americans, Researchers Report

Laura Putre

March 30, 2015

Approximately 15.7 million US adults (6.4%) have been diagnosed with COPD, according to a study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Health professionals and policymakers can do more to reduce its effects by encouraging specialized exercise and rehabilitation programs and promoting public health efforts to address smoking and physical inactivity.

Anne G. Wheaten, PhD, and colleagues from the CDC's Division of Population Health analyzed 2013 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the CDC's ongoing telephone health survey, and reported their results in an article published in the March 27 issue of the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

They found that adults with COPD were more than four times more likely than adults without the disease (24.3 % vs 5.3%) to be unable to work. In addition, adults with COPD were nearly three times more likely (49.6% vs 16.9%) to be limited in their activity because of health problems, and they reported much more difficulty walking or climbing stairs (38.4% vs 11.3%) and a higher need for special equipment to manage their health problems (22.1% vs 6.7%).

When analyzed by age group, COPD prevalence ranged from 2.6% among those aged 18 to 34 years to 12.3% among those aged 75 years or older.

"Because there is currently no cure for COPD, public health efforts should focus on prevention, such as antismoking efforts, and treatment to slow the progression of the disease, manage comorbidities, and lessen symptoms," the study authors state.

Although smokers with COPD are already widely encouraged to quit smoking, the researchers found that more than one-third of adults with COPD were current smokers (38.0%). Moreover, these individuals were more likely to report physical activity limitations than those with COPD who did not smoke.

The authors emphasize that health professionals should also encourage patients to participate in a pulmonary rehabilitation program combining education and a specialized exercise program that addresses the physical limitations associated with COPD, including breathing problems and muscle deterioration. Exercise programs should include strength and endurance (or aerobic) training.

The results suggest that COPD has a significant economic effect. The lower likelihood of employment of people with COPD and increased likelihood of people with COPD receiving disability benefits contributes to a "substantial economic burden...which only adds to the impaired quality of life experienced by persons with COPD," the authors state.

The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey is a random telephone survey administered by each state in collaboration with the CDC. The media response rate in 2013 was 46.4%, ranging by state from 29.0% to 60.3%.

The survey asked about physician-diagnosed COPD, emphysema, or chronic bronchitis. The investigators also asked about physical activity limitations and whether respondents were unable to work.

Study limitations included the fact that the COPD diagnosis was self-reported, rather than based on a clinical evaluation. Researchers also could not determine from survey results which came first: the COPD or the physical limitations. And state response rates varied widely, possibly affecting the state rankings for COPD, which tended to be more prevalent in states in the central United States. The highest prevalence of COPD was in states along the Ohio and lower Mississippi rivers.

The authors have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2015;64:289-295. Full text


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