Despite lung disease killing 4 million people every year, the Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS) revealed alarming data showing that most people are ignorant about lung disease, which kills more people than any other disease worldwide. The data was released to coincide with World Spirometry Day.

Market research agency, YouGov's study cross four continents demonstrated that regardless of the high prevalence of lung disease, people are far more concerned about cancer, heart disease and stroke.

Spriometry is a kind of lung-function (pulmonary function) test. It measures the volume of air taken in and exhaled as a function of time. The patient blows as hard as he/she can into a mouthpiece after taking a deep breath.

Spirometry measures how much air the person can blow out of their lungs (FVC - forced vital capacity), and how much they can blow out in one second (FEV1 - forced expiratory volume).


Desktop spirometer
A modern portable desktop spirometer

Death rates for lung diseases have been rising for decades

Given that research shows that the mortality rate caused by COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) has almost doubled in the last thirty years, the lack of concern is even more dramatic, because the death rate of most other major diseases has been decreasing over the same period.

According to the public poll, people underestimate the impact of lung disease and do not know how to manage it. 57% of respondents never had their lungs tested, even though simple lung tests, such as spirometry help doctors identify COPD, asthma, and other lung problems early on, when treatment is most effective.

Lung diseases and exercise

70% of respondents thought that those with lung diseases should not take part in any kind of exercise, not even gentle swimming or some targeted gym work. Physical activity can be beneficial in managing and also in improving symptoms of lung disease, such as breathlessness. Even patients with severe symptoms may benefit from exercise.

Lung transplant recipients who participated in a three-month structured exercise regime when they left hospital were found to have significantly superior quality of life and a lower chance of developing cardiovascular problems, compared to those who didn't, Belgian researchers reported in the American Journal of Transplantation. (Link to article)

As we head toward the Olympic games, FIRS aims to use these latest data to educate people about the importance of getting their lungs tested, and becoming more physically active - both of which are vital for good respiratory health.

FIRS urges patients with lung diseases to talk to their doctors and other healthcare professionals about physical activity options. Data suggest that only 41% of patients ever discuss this with their doctors.

Asthma among athletes has been steadily increasing over the last 20 years. In the 2004 Olympics, 21% of the British team suffered from asthma, compared to 8% of the British population. A report published in the BMJ (British Medical Journal) found that many athletes with asthma are likely not using the best therapy for their condition and could be jeopardizing their long-term health. (Link to article)

Healthcare professionals worldwide will be on the streets to run public lung testing events on World Spirometry Day, and throughout the run-up to the Olympics in order to raise awareness of spirometry testing, which generally takes less than 10 minutes and is the most effective way of testing respiratory health.

Klaus Rabe, Chair of FIRS and President of the European Respiratory Society (ERS), said:

"Chronic lung disease is a major health issue but - as the FIRS poll shows - its burden continues to be underestimated. There is widespread ignorance not only around the seriousness of lung disease but about what can be done to prevent it.

As countries across the world celebrate the achievements of the world's best athletes - we feel the time is right to focus on how we can all improve our lung health. Respiratory physicians understand more and more about the importance of exercise but our research confirms ignorance is still out there. Even gentle walking for those with severe disease can help in improving lung capacity and general well being and we must get this message through to patients."

Chair of the European Lung Foundation, Monica Fletcher, who co-ordinated the global initiative of WSD, added "World Spirometry Day provides a point in time for people to understand the importance of getting their lungs tested. Early diagnosis for lung conditions can lead to more effective interventions which, in turn can help alleviate symptoms and slow the progression of the disease."

Several well known athletes have joined in, in an attempt to educate people about lung disease and what they can achieve with exercise. Among them is Norwegian Olympic rower, Olaf Tufte, who won two golds and one silver medal - he suffers from severe allergic asthma.

Tufte said:

"I am determined not to let my asthma limit me or restrict my ambitions. Instead, I see it as one challenge among many that I need to master in order to come top in my sport. People with lung conditions can lead healthy, active lives - if they take steps to ensure their condition is identified early enough and treated well."

Lung diseases

There are three main kinds of lung disease:
  • Lung circulation diseases - the blood vessels in the lungs are affected, either because of a blood clot, inflammation of the blood vessels, or scarring of the blood vessels. The lung's ability to take up oxygen and release carbon dioxide is affected. Lung circulation diseases sometimes cause heart problems.

  • Airway diseases - the airways (tubes) that carry oxygen and other gases into and out of the lungs are affected. In most cases, the airways either become too narrow, or there is a blockage. Examples include chronic bronchitis, emphysema and asthma. Breathing can become hard and labored, some say it is like breathing through a straw.

  • Lung tissue diseases - the structure of the lung tissue is affected. Tissue inflammation or scarring causes restrictive lung disease - the lungs cannot expand fully, making it harder to breath oxygen in, and get rid of carbon dioxide (breath out). Examples include sarcoidosis and pulmonary fibrosis.
Some lung diseases include a combination of two or three types.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), USA, the most common lung diseases in the USA are:
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Pneumonia
  • Lung cancer
  • Emphysema
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Bronchitis
  • Atelectasis - collapse of part and sometimes all (less common) of the lung
  • Asthma
Other lung diseases include - Asbestosis, Aspergilloma, Aspergillosis, Aspergillosis - acute invasive, Bronchiectasis, Bronchiolitis obliterans organizing pneumonia (BOOP) , Eosinophilic pneumonia, Metastatic lung cancer, Necrotizing pneumonia, Pleural effusion, Pneumoconiosis, Pneumonia in immunodeficient patient, Pneumothorax, Pulmonary actinomycosis, Pulmonary alveolar proteinosis, Pulmonary anthrax, Pulmonary arteriovenous malformation, Pulmonary fibrosis, Pulmonary embolus, Pulmonary histiocytosis X (eosinophilic granuloma), Pulmonary hypertension, Pulmonary nocardiosis, Pulmonary tuberculosis, Pulmonary veno-occlusive disease, Rheumatoid lung disease, and Sarcoidosis.

Written by Petra Rattue