New Study Finds that COPD on the Rise

Photo: Industrial smoke from factory

Environmental pollution and COPD?

In fact, the data were already alarming in 1996 - at that time the WHO took a close look at the status of COPD. Based on that analysis self-help groups and federations assume, that the pulmonary disease will be the third highest cause of death in 2020 worldwide. About the current situation in Germany it is only possible to make assumptions: „We think about five million people at least suffer from COPD, plus a high number of unreported cases “, says Jens Lingemann from the self-help-group COPD, who is afflicted with this illness, too. The German lung foundation supposes that three till four million people are afflicted with COPD.

The main cause of this pulmonary disease is the inhalation of harmful substances, in particular cigarette smoke. This enduring damage of the lung narrows the bronchia. The result is a smoker´s lung with the symptom smoker’s cough, an increased secretion and breathlessness, first during physical activity later also when resting. COPD cannot be healed, because the pulmonary alveoli die off. Sprays and Oxygen can alleviate, but in the worst case only a lung transplant helps.

A current overlook of COPD status is given through the results of the International Burden of Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD)-survey that was contracted at the end of last year. BOLD was started in 2002 by the WHO to maintain results about COPD in 35 countries. Researcher of the Medizinischen Hochschule Hannover (MHH) and the Fraunhofer-Institut für Toxikologie und Experimentelle Medizin (ITEM) examined 750 persons in Germany regarding their pulmonary function, pulmonary diseases and their smoking habits. Their conclusion: chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases are more frequent than thought until now.

„The results are alarming“, says Professor Tobias Welte, Director of the MHH-department pneumology and member of the BOLD-research-committee. Every seventh attendant had COPD. Very conspicuous was the number of smoking women. Nearly ten percent of the attending women who were older than 40 years had a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The researchers found on average that every fifth smoking attendant had COPD. However, it was found out that one-third of the non-smokers are afflicted with COPD, too. „The risk of non-smokers for the development of the illness has been underestimated until now and have to be more researched in the future“, says Welte. The role environmental pollution plays is not clear at the moment.

Despite the cruelty of the disease, COPD is not a great subject in Germany and is extensive fameless in public. The reason: „ Many medicines do not identify the disease. This applies especially general practitioners“, means Lingemann. Welte confirms this aspect: „A lot of doctors make the wrong diagnosis of an asthma-affection“. The problem is obvious: „Over the years the research into this disease was not supported. The problem has not been taken seriously“. But also the patients themselves do not like to talk about the problem COPD. „The disease is at 90 percent a smoking-illness. No one likes to admit that they have to blame themselves for the illness “, says Welte.

A study of the Robert-Koch-Institute in Germany about the development of the cigarette consume documented, that the number of smokers declines, but young people and especially women continue to smoke. A lot of migrants do so, too. Welte takes for granted: „COPD will attend us for a long time. Although the prevention is so simple: just stop smoking.“