COPD is Underdiagnosed in Older Adults


Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may remain undetected due to individuals thinking that the symptoms are a normal sign of aging.

Although as many as 30 million Americans are affected by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), many patients with the disease remain undiagnosed, according to the What's Hot newsletter from the Gerontological Society of America.

This occurs for several reasons, according the article. The reasons include a poor awareness of symptoms for COPD among patients and providers, low suspicion of the disease, and an inadequate reimbursement for diagnostic tests.

Upon diagnosis, patients then face multiple obstacles, such as the many treatment options and devices that patients must choose from, a lack of knowledge and education that will help patients manage their condition, exacerbations to their condition, and unaligned perspectives with their providers regarding the appropriate way forward in treatment plans.

"This publication provides insight on improving our understanding of COPD, enhancing the tools available to health care professionals in diagnosing and managing the illness, and raising awareness of the impact of COPD in older adults," said Barbara Yawn, MD, MSc, a member of the advisory board who oversaw the What's Hot newsletter, in a press release.

The Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) defines COPD as a common, preventable, and treatable disease that includes symptoms of persistent respiratory difficulty and airflow limitation. These symptoms are due to airway and/or alveolar abnormalities that are generally caused by significant exposure to noxious particles or gases and influenced by different factors in individuals, such as abnormal lung development.

The article explained that COPD is most common in older adults, but it may remain undetected by individuals due to their thinking that shortness of breath and other symptoms are a normal sign of aging. This may lead adults experiencing these symptoms to not discuss it with their health care providers.

This lack of awareness can be ameliorated through further education of patients regarding the symptoms of COPD, which can then improve the reporting of these symptoms, as well as support screening and treatment.

Additionally, the article highlights that although there exists established guidelines for the management of the disease, greater awareness and adherence to guidelines among health care providers may be necessary as well.

"Preventive measures are effective for helping people avoid COPD," Yawn said in the press release. "Early diagnosis and optimal management through pulmonary rehabilitation, immunizations, smoking cessation support, behavioral changes, oxygen therapy when needed, management of associated comorbidities, and pharmacotherapy will enable people with COPD to improve symptoms, increase functional capacity, and live life to its fullest."


COPD Underdiagnosed in Older Adults, but Can Be Managed. The Gerontological Society of America; August 3, 2020. Accessed August 10, 2020.

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