Obstructive Lung Disease and Death

A long-term study shows people with chronic lung disease are at a higher risk for early death.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is an umbrella term used to describe airflow obstruction that is associated mainly with emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Experts from the American Lung Association say the exact prevalence of COPD is not well defined, but it affects tens of millions of Americans and is a serious health problem in the United Sates. Experts also say the extent to which obstructive and restrictive lung disease kills may be underreported.

Long-term smoking is the most frequent cause of COPD. It accounts for 80 percent to 90 percent of all cases. A smoker is 10-times more likely than a non-smoker to die of COPD. Some symptoms of COPD include chronic cough, chest tightness, shortness of breath, an increased effort to breathe, increased mucous production, and frequent clearing of the throat. In a new study, researchers found people with severe or moderate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or restrictive lung disease were more likely to die early than those without lung disease. Smoking tobacco is the primary cause of emphysema and COPD, but other factors, including asthma, genetics, and occupational exposure to dust and irritants are also important.

Researchers also found the disease is often not listed as the primary cause of death even among people who had severe COPD. Of the 66 people in the study who died with severe COPD, only 23 percent had it listed on the death certificate as the primary cause of death. Among people with moderate COPD, only 4.4 percent had it listed as the primary cause of death.

“COPD is definitely a killer, but this study shows that we may be underestimating its truly negative impact,” says Udaya B.S. Prakash, M.D., president of the American College of Chest Physicians. He continues, “Accurate data on how many Americans die of this disease is crucial to educating the public of the dangers of tobacco use.”

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