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Do You Have COPD? A Simple Test Can Tell, Say Respiratory Therapists

For Immediate Release

IRVING, TX (September 15, 2006) – Most people have never heard of a disease called “COPD.” But it's still the fourth largest killer in the U.S. , report respiratory therapists from the American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC).

Why the mystery? The name may not be familiar, but the two conditions it encompasses are well known to most, says Allen Wentworth, MEd, RRT, director of respiratory therapy and pulmonary diagnostics at the University of Colorado Hospital in Denver , CO .

“COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It essentially covers patients who suffer from emphysema and chronic bronchitis.” While most people get the disease from smoking, other environmental pollutants can lead to COPD too, and a genetic form of the condition, alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency , affects a small number of people as well.

Certainly, the best way to avoid COPD is to never start smoking. But what if you're a smoker or former smoker? Wentworth says a simple test called spirometry can help uncover the condition in its earliest and most treatable stages.

“Spirometry is a test where a patient blows into a machine in specific ways that assist us in measuring certain lung volumes and flow rates,” explains the registered respiratory therapist. “The patient will seal their lips around a mouthpiece and breathe a few normal breaths. When they are instructed to, they will take the deepest breath they can and then blast it out as fast and long as possible. Once they have exhaled everything they can, they will then take a big deep breath back in and the test is done.”

When spirometry is performed by a qualified respiratory therapist, pulmonary function technologist, or other health professional it is far more accurate than a chest x-ray in identifying COPD. “Generally speaking, by the time you see changes in chest x-rays the disease is already pretty advanced and the patient is usually symptomatic,” says Wentworth.

If spirometry has so much to offer in the early diagnosis of COPD, why don't more people know about it? Wentworth says the test has been underutilized because it's traditionally been available only in hospital pulmonary function laboratories. 

All that is changing, though, thanks to a national campaign sponsored by the National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP) and supported by groups like the AARC. NLHEP is urging more primary care physicians to offer the test during regular check-ups and is promoting spirometry to the general public with a campaign called “Test your Lungs - Know Your Numbers.”

Wentworth says the founder of NLHEP, internationally known pulmonologist Thomas L. Petty, MD, once put it to him this way, “Physicians don't prescribe blood pressure medications without taking blood pressure, or heart medications without doing EKGs. Why do they prescribe bronchodilators (medicines used to treat breathing problems) without doing spirometry?” 

He says that's a question respiratory therapists would like to see laid to rest once and for all.

Respiratory Therapists (RTs) are specially trained and licensed respiratory health care professionals assisting physicians in diagnosis, treatment, and management of respiratory diseases. RTs provide care in hospitals, outpatient centers, physicians' offices, skilled nursing facilities, and patients' homes. 

The American Association for Respiratory Care (AARC) is a not-for-profit, professional organization, consisting of 40,000 respiratory therapists, physicians, and other health care professionals. AARC is dedicated to assisting persons with respiratory diseases receive safe and effective respiratory care. 


Contact:   Beth Binkley
American Association For Respiratory Care
9425 N MacArthur Blvd, Suite 100 , Irving , TX 75063
972-406-4657, 972-243-2272

Facts About COPD

  • Over 16 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD and another 16 million have COPD but don't know it.

  • COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the US .

  • In a recent survey, 7 out of 10 smokers could not identify COPD as a top-five killer.

  • In 2002, about 125,000 people died of COPD.

  • Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of COPD.

  • COPD symptoms include cough; extreme mucus production; shortness of breath, especially with exercise; wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe); and chest tightness.

  • In a recent survey 66 percent of Americans did not know that COPD kills more women than men.

  • By 2020, COPD will become the third leading cause of death in the United States 

Source: YourLungHealth.org, the consumer web site of the American Association for Respiratory Care