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Patients With Persistent Cough and Mucus Are Often Undiagnosed With COPD

By February 1, 2011

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Research conducted by GlaxoSmithKline found that many patients in primary care age 40 and older with a history of smoking, persistent cough and mucus production actually have airway obstruction consistent with COPD, yet are undiagnosed.  Just how many people are we talking about?

The study consisted of over 1,200 patients. Each was at least 40 years old with a history of smoking at least 1 pack of cigarettes a day for a minimum of 10 years.  They also had existing symptoms of chronic bronchitis. Of these patients, only 4% were previously diagnosed with COPD by a doctor, yet 26% had significant airway obstruction (as measured by spirometry) that met criteria for COPD.

"Understanding the patients who are at greatest risk for having undiagnosed COPD should help improve disease recognition, diagnosis and management," said Barbara Yawn, M.D., lead author of the study and director of research at Olmsted Medical Center in Rochester, MN. "Spirometry should be considered in anyone with symptoms and a 10 or greater pack-year smoking history - which is how we will improve recognition of COPD."

What should you take away from this story? If you have a history of chronic smoking, talk to your doctor about getting a spirometry test.  Early diagnosis leads to earlier treatment and a better overall quality of life. Also, consider quitting as smoking cessation not only reduces the risk of COPD if you don't already have it, but, once diagnosed, it slows the progression of the disease and improves survival.

For more information about this study, read the GSK press release.

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