COPD, Asthma Underdiagnosed Treatment Significantly Improves Life Quality

Research has found that up to 70 percent of people who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma may be unaware of their problem. Receiving a diagnosis and treatment can dramatically improve a person’s quality of life and overall health.

If you sometimes have problems breathing, you should tell your doctor. Almost seven out of 10 people with asthma or COPD aren’t diagnosed. Leaving the problem untreated can cause long-term harm and lower your quality of life.

I’m a practicing pulmonologist and I see a lot of people who come to my office who’ve experienced symptoms of asthma or COPD for months to years, and the diagnosis hasn’t been made,” Dr. Shawn Aaron, a lead study author as well as a respirologist and senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. “So we did this study where we looked at people who were who we diagnosed with no previous history of asthma or COPD and we diagnosed them. We found that compared to people their age, those who are undiagnosed with COPD or asthma have a much worse quality of life. They have impaired work performance and impaired work attendance because they’re taking days off because of their respiratory symptoms. These are people that are suffering sort of silently because they’re not they’re either not seeing their doctors or their doctors are not doing the proper diagnosis.”  

As COPD develops gradually and generally appears in people in their sixties, folks often write it off as part of the aging process, according to Dr. Aaron. He also said that doctors can dismiss complaints as normal aging. If you bring up your concerns and your doctor suggests it’s normal aging, advocate for yourself. Point out that 70 percent of COPD and asthma go undiagnosed and ask for a spirometry test. A spirometry test measures how much air you exhale and how quickly.

Most doctor’s offices don’t have the test, but hospitals and lung specialists do. It is noninvasive and easy. “One takes a deep breath in, then blasts out quickly until your lungs have emptied all air — sort of like blowing out candles on a birthday cake,” said Dr. David Mannino, a pulmonologist.

Speak to your doctor if you frequently find yourself short of breath, have a cough that lingers long after you have been sick or have any other breathing problems. You may find that you have an easy-to-treat problem. A simple diagnosis could lead to feeling like a literal weight has been taken off your chest.  

[People] are suffering because they are without a diagnosis or treatment, and if we set out to diagnose them early and treat them, we can make them much better,” said Dr. Aaron.  

Banner image: Luci via Pexels

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