Rising number of COPD deaths a cause for concern

Efforts to coordinate policies in the fight against respiratory diseases need to be monitored, writes Nuno Melo.

By Nuno Melo

19 Nov 2014

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a serious respiratory disease that results from an obstruction of the airways. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in developed countries and the fifth leading cause of death throughout Europe. It is expected that by 2020 it will become the third leading cause of death worldwide, a clear demonstration of the severity of this disease.

"COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in developed countries and the fifth leading cause of death throughout Europe"

The loss of quality of life for those suffering from COPD is characterised by progressive airflow limitation (clogging) associated with an altered inflammatory response to particles and or noxious gases, accompanied by difficulty breathing, coughing, wheezing and increased sputum production, which may limit the ability of a patient to perform normal daily activities.

COPD is preventable in many cases. Smoking is responsible for 85 per cent of cases. In addition to this, other exogenous factors, including occupational exposure to dust and chemical fumes, exposure to household and environmental pollutants contribute. However, according to the literature, hereditary factors also exist because of an alpha1-antitrypsin deficiency, an enzyme that prevents the loss of elastic fibres in the lungs.

In most cases, the earlier the disease is diagnosed, the more effectively it can be treated. Therefore, what we should remember is that there are risk groups. It is mainly smokers that need to be aware of the reality and attentive to the emergence and evolution of the disease. The examination that allows for a diagnosis is the spirometry test of respiratory capacity. The good news is that COPD is preventable and treatable and is testament to scientific advances, with the emergence of drug therapies. Non-pharmacological treatment can also help patients. The main non-pharmacological therapy involves rehab, workout programmes and exercises under the instruction of qualified professionals. These are determined according to the severity of the disease, which has several possible degrees, classified according to the results of the spirometry test.

I must remark that in accordance with the Lisbon treaty, the responsibility for the allocation of resources to health services, anti-smoking campaigns and supporting the use of medications to aid quitting lies with member states. Tobacco use is a tragic reality that impacts upon health services and has huge consequences for member state budgets because of the requirement to treat and combat the diseases associated with smoking.

A commitment by the European commission towards the surveillance and coordination of policies adopted by member states would be desirable. COPD is a serious disease that affects many people worldwide. It is in our hands to do everything in order to see it substantially reduced, and we cannot resign in this effort.