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06-04-2011 | General practice | Article

COPD not just a disease among smokers





: 752–763

Research indicates that doctors should not rule out a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in people who have never smoked.

Bernd Lamprecht, from Paracelsus Medical University in Salzburg, Austria, and colleagues found that people who had never smoked made up 23% of 1031 moderate to severe cases of COPD (GOLD stage II+).

Moreover, only 19% of these never-smokers had been previously diagnosed with COPD, meaning 81% had gone undiagnosed.

"This clearly reflects the lack of recognition and underdiagnosis of obstructive lung disease among never-smokers, possibly as a result of little knowledge on this condition and poor understanding and appreciation of risk factors other than smoking," says the team.

The study, published in the journal Chest, involved 10,000 individuals aged at least 40 years, 4291 of whom had never smoked.

Postbronchodilator spirometry testing showed that 6.6% of these individuals had mild COPD (GOLD stage I) and 5.6% had moderate to very severe disease. COPD was diagnosed in 1889 individuals overall, of whom 27.7% had never smoked.

Predictors of COPD in people who had never smoked included increasing age, a prior diagnosis of asthma, occupational exposure and severe childhood respiratory diseases.

Speaking to GP News, Dr Keith Prowse, former Chairman of the British Lung Foundation, said the findings are important in helping to diagnose COPD earlier.

"If it can be dealt with earlier, people will be much happier and will be able to keep their jobs longer, and it will take a load off the health service, whichever country you are in."

GP News is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2011

By Lucy Piper