a man sitting on one hand of a clock with a questioning look while the other hand is pointing to a doctor

Should Doctors Be Treating COPD Earlier?

A respiratory therapist friend of mine had a great idea. He said, “Why aren’t I being treated for COPD? I smoked for over ten years. My parents had COPD. So, why isn’t my doctor talking to me about COPD?”

Early diagnosis and treatment

He continued: “Wouldn’t people like me benefit from getting an early diagnosis and treatment? I mean, what if I am in the early stages of COPD? I’m not short of breath, but that doesn’t mean I’m not in these early stages. So, don’t you think I should be treated so to slow the progression of my disease?”

He said that he would like to see a greater emphasis on screening for COPD. This way people who are at risk can get an early diagnosis and treatment. To me, this sounded like a great idea. It resulted in a really nice discussion. And, of course, it segued into this post with his permission of course.

He has a great point

My friend said his family has a history of smoking and COPD. Still, he smoked anyway. After he became a respiratory therapist in the early 80s, he learned of the dangers of smoking. He learned how smoking can cause COPD, so he quit. Still, he said, he smoked for ten years.

So, he wondered, “Why don’t my doctors screen me for COPD? Why don’t they prescribe me COPD medicine to take now before I experience symptoms? Wouldn’t that make sense? Wouldn’t taking medicine like every day prevent my COPD from getting worse? That is, assuming I do have it?”

Worthy questions my friend asked. He has a great point.

Millions undiagnosed

I do know that researchers are looking into this. They are well aware that 45-85% of people in the early stages of COPD currently are undiagnosed.1 This means that there are an estimated 12 million people (and probably more) with undiagnosed COPD. It’s possible my friend is among these. Although, I did not have an answer for him.

One idea I’ve read about (and my friend alluded to) is creating better screening tools to help physicians better recognize these patients. Once properly diagnosed, they can get the proper treatment they deserve. Such a screening tool would be great. Still, most doctors are already aware of whether or not their patients have a smoking history. It’s usually a common question they ask. And, if not, it’s one they ought to be asking.

Similarly, occupational exposure to fumes, gases, dusts can also contribute to COPD as well. This is also a question they ought to be asking. Anyone exposed so any noxious substance in the air over a period of time ought to at least be considered for COPD. It’s common sense to my friend and me.

What is the best course of action?

Most doctors already encourage their patients to quit smoking. But, at what point do they start thinking about COPD? Do they consider it in all their patients with a history that predisposes them to COPD? Or, do they wait until their patients start complaining of symptoms? If someone has such a history, would it behoove these patients to begin early treatment for COPD? That’s a great question worthy of a great answer. And I do not have that answer. What do you think? Please let us know in the comments below.

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