New Centers for Disease Control Data Shows that COPD's Impact is Severe

COPDOn November 21st, the nation got a look at COPD data from the 2011 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). BRFSS - the nation's largest telephone public health survey -included questions regarding chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for the very first time in 2011, which will give the public health system state-specific data to understand how best to tackle COPD.


The MMWR data shows that COPD's impact is severe, with some US states showing much higher prevalence than others. Nationally, 6.3% of BRFSS respondents reported a diagnosis of COPD, but the prevalence ranged from a high of 9.3% in Kentucky and 9.1% in Alabama, and a low of 3.1% in Puerto Rico and 3.9% in Minnesota and Washington. The MMWR also showed that many of the high prevalence states were located in the southern part of the U.S. showcasing the need for targeted COPD surveillance, prevention, awareness, and education efforts in the area.


The MMWR demonstrates that COPD is an important public health problem, and includes a number of trends worth noting:


  • Women reported higher rates of COPD than men (6.7% to 5.2%).
  • COPD is not a disease of the elderly, highlighting the need for employers to take action. Prevalence in the 45-54 and 55-64 age groups was reported as 6.6% and 9.2% respectively.
  • The disparities in COPD among people with lower income levels (9.9% in individuals with incomes less than $25,000), combined with the Healthcare costs associated with COPD, indicate that state policy makers have an imperative to take action.
  • COPD is not just being reported in current or former smokers, thus indicating effects of genetic, environmental and occupational risk factors. 24.9% of those who reported COPD indicated they had never smoked and 63.1% of reported COPD was in never or former smokers
  • The prevalence of COPD jumped to more than 20% in individuals who also reported ever having been diagnosed with asthma.
  • The optional module data highlighted that there is still work to do toward ensuring everyone with COPD receives spirometry testing to confirm their diagnosis. Rates of reported spirometry ranged from 57.3% in Puerto Rico to 81.2% in Nevada.
  • The impact that COPD has on an individuals' quality of life was clear with an average of 64.2% indicating that shortness of breath impaired their quality of life.
  • The optional module also showcased the heavy utilization of healthcare services by those with COPD. 55.6% reported taking at least one daily medication for COPD, 43.2% had visited a physician for their COPD and 17.7% had visited hospital emergency rooms or been admitted to the hospital, all within the last 12 months.


There is no cure for COPD, but early diagnosis and current treatments can improve the quality of life for millions of Americans and save billions in preventable healthcare expenditures. (More than 12 million people have been diagnosed with COPD in the United States, and about 3 percent of them are predicted to have Alpha-1. Despite being a major public health issue, COPD research still receives substantially less research funding than other diseases. An increase in funding for COPD research could help develop early diagnosis strategies, new treatment regimens, and improved disease management programs.


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