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Dangerous lung disease: high mortality from COPD
More and more people are suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). But in many cases, the disease, which is also known as smoking cough, remains undetected and undiagnosed. So it is not surprising that the mortality rate continues to rise.
Up to five million Germans suffer from COPD
According to the German Respiratory League, three to five million people in Germany alone suffer from COPD ("chronic obstructive pulmonary disease"). However, the disease often remains undetected and undiagnosed. This can be dangerous: According to health experts, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, popularly known as smoking cough or smoking lung, is the third leading cause of death worldwide.
Permanent narrowing of the bronchi
COPD assumes chronic inflammation of the lower respiratory tract. This ongoing inflammatory reaction causes changes and remodeling processes that cause a permanent narrowing of the bronchi.
Chronic symptoms such as coughing, expectoration and shortness of breath are possible.
Advanced stages are often associated with emphysema, and affected patients often need a chronic oxygen supply.
A lack of awareness has fatal consequences
Despite the possible fatal consequences, many people are not interested or only little interested in the disease.
This is also shown by an investigation into the public interest in COPD using the Google Trends application by a team of doctors from the Medical University of Innsbruck.
As the experts report in the European Respiratory Journal, COPD only ranks 8th when comparing search queries among the ten most common causes of death according to the WHO classification.
The lack of awareness can have fatal consequences.
Mortality rate increases continuously
Although the prevalence and mortality rate of COPD is continuously increasing worldwide, the lung disease often remains undetected and undiagnosed.
"COPD is far too little anchored in people's minds," said Alex Pizzini, specialist at the Innsbruck University Clinic for Internal Medicine II (director: Günter Weiss) in a message.
The doctor carried out the informative analysis together with Anna Böhm and study leader Ivan Tancevski.
Searches for COPD examined
In order to quantify the lack of awareness of the disease, the pneumology team analyzed the frequency of global searches for COPD between 2004 and 2018 using the Google Trends analysis application.
The relative search volume for COPD was compared with nine others from the list of the world's most common causes of death, published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in an annual statistic.
In order not to distort the analysis, the researchers limited their internet searches to industrialized countries, i.e. countries in which around 80 percent of the population use the internet.
There is a bit more interest in the winter months
"We were able to show," said Pizzini, "that medical topics generally have a lower search volume, but are most often googled for diabetes, stroke and breast cancer."
And further: "COPD is only in eighth place. Depending on the season, users of the Google search engine are interested in COPD a little more than usual in the first and fourth quarters of the year, ie in the winter months."
The disease is searched for much less often than people get sick. Over the course of time, stagnant search behavior has even been observed since 2004 - a trend that runs counter to the rate of new cases.
Constantly deteriorating quality of life
As a systemic inflammation, COPD is associated with numerous comorbidities and a steadily deteriorating quality of life.
Even a small decrease in lung function increases the risk of a heart attack. According to the experts, the risk of developing heart failure is six times higher in COPD and the risk of stroke ten times higher.
So-called exacerbations (acute exacerbation of the disease), which increasingly occur in the third and fourth stages of the disease and require admission to the intensive care unit in severe cases, lead to death in ten percent of the cases, and the mortality risk remains up to one year later increased to 40 percent.
Smoking is the number one risk factor
However, with higher awareness and timely diagnosis, risk factors such as smoking could be eliminated, exacerbations prevented, and concomitant or secondary diseases treated accordingly.
Sometimes non-smokers are also affected, but for the majority of all cases the main cause is smoking.
Over 90 percent of all COPD patients smoke or have smoked for a long time, the message says.
Therefore, symptoms such as increased mucus formation and chronic cough, especially for those who smoke, should be reason enough to have their airways and lungs examined.
"Against the background of a lack of disease awareness, smoking cough is all too often trivialized. Smoking, including passive smoking, is the number one risk factor for COPD, ”explained study leader Ivan Tancevski. (ad)