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World COPD Day 2021: Why Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases Deserves Our Attention

According to a report by INSEARCH, an estimated 4.46 per cent of male and 2.86 per cent of the female population has COPD issues in India.

COPD is one of the leading causes of death globally. Today, on the occasion of World COPD Day, it is time to realise that there is never a more critical time to focus on our respiratory health.

Written by Editorial Team |Updated : November 17, 2021 4:35 PM IST

The onset of the pandemic in 2020 brought respiratory ailments to the forefront of public health. In the recent past, the increasing AQIs across cities and the dipping temperatures were aggravating respiratory issues beyond control. People and authorities together have taken the necessary measures to bring the pandemic slightly under control. For the time being, heightened awareness and concern is still needed to protect patients suffering from COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Diseases) ailments. Patients with COPD related comorbidities are always vulnerable to air-borne illnesses. These patients are even more susceptible to contract COVID-19 again, especially those residing in metropolitan cities such as Delhi and Bengaluru, where pollution is a public health problem.

COPD is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Each year, Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) collaborates with health care professionals and COPD patient groups and observes World COPD Day on 17 November to increase conversations and awareness around COPD ailments. This year's theme is - 'Healthy Lungs Never More Important', which highlights that there is never a more critical time to focus on our respiratory health.

COPD makes patients gasp for breathe

In medical terms, COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is an umbrella term for two primary conditions: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Both these conditions make it harder for the patient to breathe air in and push air out, which means the patient is not able to take enough oxygen in or has a hard time breathing out, which means carbon dioxide remains in the body. While emphysema destroys the air sacs in the lungs, which interferes with outward airflow, bronchitis causes inflammation and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, allowing mucus to build up.

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Symptoms of COPD

A few symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness, lack of energy and frequent respiratory infections. People with COPD are also likely to experience episodes called exacerbations. Their symptoms become worse than the everyday variation and persist for at least several days. The primary concern here is that COPD significantly damages the lungs, and by the time these symptoms are visible in a patient, the damage is already done.

COPD burden of India

India is estimated to have over 55.3 million COPD patients. According to a report by INSEARCH, an estimated 4.46 per cent of male and 2.86 per cent of the female population has COPD issues in India. As per the same report, COPD causes a loss of over 48,000 crores annually and is a substantial economic burden in India, impacting individuals' productivity and economic growth. Not only the individual, but COPD also indirectly affects the health and wellness of the family and co-workers of the patient, which further costs the economy. What is worse is that more than half of the patients suffering from COPD are not even aware of its symptoms or are completely unaware.

Treatment options for COPD

The treatment of COPD has greatly evolved over the years, thanks to newer medications like bronchodilators, biologics and better patient awareness. However, getting medical intervention at the right time coupled with lifestyle changes is important to help the patient breathe better and lead a better quality of life. Advancements in digital health and telemedicine have made treatment options easy and convenient, even for chronic diseases such as COPD.

Use of non-invasive ventilation (NIV) therapy for COPD patients

For patients in the far end of the spectrum, options such as non-invasive ventilation (NIV) therapy can help improve patient quality of life and reduce hospitalizations. Recent studies for the use of NIVs have shown that:

  • NIV therapy reduces the risk of death in COPD patients by 76 per cent in one year[1]
  • Patients who use NIV at home after hospitalizations have lower readmission rates[2]
  • When NIV aids in pulmonary rehabilitation in COPD patients with chronic hypercapnic respiratory failure, it may lead to improvements in quality of life, functional status, and gas exchange.[3]

A few tips that can help you maintain healthy lungs

While medical intervention is important for patients with acute symptoms, everybody can observe a few measures to keep their lungs healthy, such as:

  • Quit smoking
  • Improve indoor air quality and reduce dust/chemical products
  • Stay indoors during high air pollution days
  • Practice breathing exercises
  • Develop muscle strength and perform water based exercises

In case of acute exacerbations, the patient should consult a pulmonologist for treatment.


[1] Lancet Respiratory Medicine 2014

[1] Galli JA et al. Respir Med 2014

[1] Duiverman ML et al. Thorax 2008.

(This article is authored by Dr. Sibasish Dey, Head, Medical Affairs, Asia and Latin America, ResMed)

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