Imagine experiencing shortness of breath, wheezing, and a cough so severe it requires you to visit the emergency room.
This is a frightening potential reality for an estimated 24 million Americans with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive and debilitating lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe.
Many COPD patients will experience an event like this called an exacerbation (or flare-up), a time when symptoms suddenly get worse and breathing becomes more difficult.
COPD exacerbations can be triggered by infections, changes in the weather, air pollution, or second-hand smoke, and they're a leading cause of hospitalization in the US.
Therefore, it's critical for COPD patients and their doctors to have a productive dialogue on how to manage, treat, and prepare for these potential flare-ups.
However, findings from the new, groundbreaking, two-part national COPE (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Experience) Survey released by The COPD Foundation show that people with COPD may need more education and better communication with their doctors to effectively manage the condition.
In fact, despite the serious risks posed by exacerbations, the COPE Survey revealed that nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of COPD patients admitted to not knowing a lot about them -- and an additional 16 percent were unaware of what a flare-up even was.
Moreover, 60 percent 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 and establish action plans with their patients, suggesting there is an opportunity to improve patient care through more productive, meaningful communication between patients and their physicians about COPD to improve patient care.
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 two years and nine months prior to being diagnosed.
Furthermore, surveyed physicians reported that 39 percent 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 percent) of physicians surveyed reported that they always perform spirometry -- a diagnostic tool that measures lung function -- to confirm a diagnosis.
The survey also revealed that only 12 percent of COPD patients consider their condition to be "completely controlled" and indicated that COPD disrupts their patients' ability to complete normal daily activities such as exercising (87 percent), climbing stairs (86 percent), and walking (77 percent).
Yet surprisingly, 82 percent of patients who have a COPD treatment regimen said they are satisfied with it.
"COPD can be treated -- but it's crucial for doctors to diagnose it early and help patients follow the appropriate therapeutic strategies to improve symptoms, increase activity, and reduce the chance of exacerbations," said Dr. MeiLan Han, 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 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 morematterswithcopd.com.
It's critical for COPD patients and their doctors to have a productive dialogue on how to manage, treat, and prepare for potential flare-ups.