Health and social impacts of COPD and the problem of under-diagnosis
This article deals with the prevalence and the possible reasons of COPD underestimation in the population and gives suggestions on how to overcome the obstacles and make the correct diagnosis in order to provide the patients with the appropriate therapy. COPD is diagnosed in later or very advanced stages. In Italy the rate of COPD under-diagnosis ranges between 25 and 50% and, as a consequence, the patient does not consult his doctor until the symptoms have worsened, mainly due to exacerbations. A missed diagnosis influences the timing of therapeutic intervention, thus contributing to the evolution into more severe stages of the illness. An incisive intervention to limit under-diagnosis cannot act only in remittance (passive diagnosis), but must be the promoter for a series of preventive actions: primary, secondary and rehabilitative. To reduce under-diagnosis, some actions need to be taken, such as screening programs for smokers subjects, use of questionnaires aimed to qualify and monitor the disease severity, spirometry, early diagnosis. There is a consensus regarding diagnoses based on screening of at-risk subjects and symptoms, rather than screening of the general population. In practice, all individuals over 40 years of age with risk factors should make a spirometry test. Screening actions on a national scale can be the following: compilation of questionnaires in waiting rooms of doctor’s offices or performing simple maneuvers to evaluate the expiratory force at pharmacies. It is now widely recognized that COPD is a complex syndrome with several pulmonary and extrapulmonary components; as a result, the airway obstruction as assessed by FEV1 by itself does not adequately describe the complexity of the disease and FEV1 cannot be used alone for the optimal diagnosis, assessment, and management of the disease. The identification and subsequent grouping of key elements of the COPD syndrome into clinically meaningful and useful subgroups (phenotypes) can guide therapy more effectively. In conclusion, we firmly believe that an early and correct diagnosis can influence positively the progress of the disease (lowering the lung function impairment), decrease the risk of exacerbations, relieve symptoms and increase the patients’ quality of life leading also to a decrease in costs associated to the exacerbations and hospitalization of the patient.
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