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Millions in UK at risk of lung disease

Millions in UK at risk of lung disease Get a lung test

If you have a nagging cough that won't go away and get breathless taking the stairs, you could be one of an estimated 3.5 million people in the UK who have COPD but don't know it, a health charity has warned.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the umbrella term for the lung conditions, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is mostly caused by smoking or by exposure to environmental pollution and to hazards at work such as dust, fumes and gases.

COPD is the UK’s fifth biggest killer, and kills more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer each year.

However, research by the British Lung Foundation has shown that over 29 million people (61%) in the UK have never heard of the condition.

Previous research by the health charity suggests around 2.8 million people in the UK have the condition but don't realise it.

But a survey of more than 1,000 people from across the UK suggests this figure may be as high as 3.5 million people. People taking part in the survey were ranked as being at low, high or medium risk of COPD depending on whether they had typical symptoms of the condition such breathlessness, regular cough, phlegm and wheeze.

The survey found that 22.8 per cent of people questioned were at a medium risk and 7.4 per cent were at a high risk of having COPD without knowing it.

The research, carried out to mark World COPD Day, also found that only four per cent of smokers thought their "smokers cough", or breathlessness was caused by COPD.

Dame Helena Shovelton, chief executive of the British Lung Foundation, said: “This research suggests the possibility of up to 3.5 million people in the UK living with COPD and not even knowing it.

"This is 700,000 more people than previous research has shown which is really alarming.

“This is why early diagnosis is so essential to slow the progression of COPD to ensure that those with the disease can manage their condition properly and live with COPD rather than suffering in silence with an invisible disease.

“This is why the BLF is encouraging those with symptoms such as a persistent cough with phlegm, breathlessness or a wheezy chest to take the BLF’s online breath test or to visit their GP for a lung function test.”

This article was published on Wed 17 November 2010

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