More Ex-Smokers Dying From Progressive Lung Disease
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and kills 120,000 residents annually, but many cases remain undiagnosed, the New York Times reports. The Times examined COPD as part of a series on the six leading causes of illness and death.
COPD can occur as emphysema, which "destroys air sacs deep in the lungs," and chronic bronchitis, which "causes inflammation, congestion and scarring in the airways," according to the Times. About 12 million U.S. residents are diagnosed with COPD annually, and studies estimate that an additional 12 million residents have the disease but remain undiagnosed.
COPD, which costs the U.S. $42 billion annually in treatment and lost productivity, likely will become the third-leading cause of death by 2020. Smoking causes about 85% of COPD cases, and symptoms often appear after age 40 in individuals who have smoked one pack daily for at least 10 years.
According to the Times, although COPD is "incurable, it is treatable," but "many patients, and some doctors, mistakenly think little can be done for it" and "miss out on therapies that could help them feel better and possibly live longer" (Grady, New York Times, 11/29).