Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may need more education and better dialogue with their physicians to effectively manage the progressive respiratory condition and potentially life-threatening complications known as exacerbations (or flare-ups), according to key findings from the new, two-part national COPE (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Experience) Survey initiative released by the COPD Foundation.
While COPD exacerbations are a leading cause of hospitalization in the United States, nearly two-thirds (62%) of COPD patients surveyed admitted to not knowing a lot about them - and an additional 16% were unaware of what an exacerbation even was. Sixty percent (60%) of COPD patients reported that they do not have an action plan in place to deal with a flare-up. By contrast, in the part of the COPE Survey targeting physicians who treat COPD, almost all said they discuss exacerbations (98%) and establish action plans (92%) with their patients, suggesting there is an opportunity to improve care through more productive, meaningful communication between patients and their physicians about COPD.
COPD is a serious lung disease that affects an estimated 24 million Americans and which over time makes it more difficult to breathe, partially because symptoms of the disease - such as shortness of breath, chronic coughing or wheezing, and production of excess mucus - come on slowly and continue to worsen.
Exacerbations are acute periods when symptoms suddenly get worse, and breathing becomes even more difficult. Once a patient has an exacerbation - which can be mild, moderate, or severe - they are more likely to experience another one. In fact, COPD patients in the survey who experienced at least one exacerbation have suffered through an average of 22 exacerbations in their lifetime.
"Exacerbations can have a devastating impact on overall health, and they can actually cause COPD to progress even faster and reduce lung function," said Scott Cerreta, Director of Education, COPD Foundation. "Developing an action plan with instructions to help patients - and their caregivers - identify warning signs and what steps to take if an exacerbation should occur is a critical part of managing COPD."
Early detection and proper diagnosis of COPD are also critical to managing the disease and slowing its progression, yet surveyed COPD patients indicated that they experienced symptoms of the disease for an average of 2 years and 9 months prior to being diagnosed. Furthermore, surveyed physicians reported that 39% of their patients had reached a "severe" or "very severe" disease state by the time of diagnosis - results which indicate there may be an opportunity for earlier detection and intervention. Despite the importance of proper diagnosis of COPD severity, less than half (49%) of physicians surveyed reported that they always perform spirometry - a diagnostic tool that measures lung function - to confirm a diagnosis.
Additionally, the survey revealed that only 12% of COPD patients consider their condition to be "completely controlled" and indicated that COPD disrupts patients' ability to complete normal daily activities such as exercising (87%), climbing stairs (86%), and walking (77%). Yet surprisingly, 82% of patients who have a COPD treatment regimen said they are satisfied with it, suggesting that many may be unaware that more could be done.
"COPD can be treated - but it's crucial for doctors to diagnose it early and for patients to follow the appropriate therapeutic strategies to improve symptoms, increase activity, and reduce the chances of exacerbations," said MeiLan Han MD, MS, Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care at the University of Michigan. "It's important that physicians develop an individualized approach that works best for each patient."
The COPE patient and physician surveys were conducted by The COPD Foundation with support from Forest Laboratories, Inc., as part of Forest's MORE Matters education campaign. The initiative aims to provide people living with COPD and their caregivers what they want MORE of: education about the condition, helpful resources, and the support needed to help them manage the disease. Additional information can be found at http://morematterswithcopd.com/.