May 16, 2007 / 7:23 PM / 13 years ago

COPD: a growing, neglected epidemic

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a burgeoning global problem that is not receiving the attention it deserves from the healthcare community, governments and the pharmaceutical industry, an expert on lung disease argues in an essay in the current issue of PLoS Medicine.

“Urgent action is now required to recognize the disease, predicted to soon become one of the major causes of death and disability, and to develop more effective prevention and treatment strategies,” writes Dr. Peter J. Barnes from the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College, London,


By the year 2030, the World Health Organization (WHO) predicts that COPD will rise from its current ranking as the fifth most common cause of death to the fourth most common cause of death, behind only heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, and HIV/AIDS.

“COPD,” Barnes points out, “is the only common cause of death in the United States that has increased over the last 40 years, in sharp contrast to the reduction in cardiovascular and infectious diseases.”

“Even more importantly, COPD is an increasing cause of chronic disability,” he notes, one that will “undoubtedly place an increasing burden on health resources.”

COPD is one of the most common reasons for hospital admission and time lost from work, according to Barnes. “This has resulted in major health care expenditure that now exceeds the costs of asthma by over 3-fold.”

Despite this, COPD has been neglected by clinicians, researchers and drug companies, writes Barnes, “largely because COPD is viewed as self-inflicted (by smoking)” — an attitude that “needs to be changed” — and because “the underlying disease process is generally perceived to be irreversible.”

Consequently, there is a “fundamental lack of knowledge about the cellular, molecular, and genetic causes of COPD,” he says. Existing treatments for COPD are “inadequate,” and none have been shown to slow the progression of the disease.

The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease launched in 2001 and endorsed by WHO and other organizations will continue to play an important role in boosting awareness of the disease and improving its recognition and treatment, Barnes concludes.

SOURCE: PLoS Medicine, May 2007.

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