The NLHEP's Campaign Against COPD

Chicago B The National Lung Health Education Program (NLHEP), working in conjunction with government agencies and medical and health professional associations, is putting some new steam in its theme, ATest your lungs; know your numbers.@ Those admonitions emphasize the need for early testing to detect chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) before clinical symptoms emerge. The program's other call to action, APut >em out; keep >em out,@ is aimed at boosting patient, provider, and public awareness of the only known intervention that can stop, reverse, or slow the progression of COPD; smoking cessation.

In a panel discussion at CHEST 1999, the annual meeting of the American College of Chest Physicians, a distinguished panel of experts B chaired by Thomas Petty, MD, chairman of the NLHEP and professor of medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver and Rush Medical College in Chicago B detailed the program's goals of preventing lung disease and promoting lung health.

COPD develops over a period of about 30 years. Unfortunately, neither physical examination nor chest films can detect the early stages of the disease. However, spirometry can identify signs of the onset of lung abnormalities.

Statistics attest to the need to identify COPD early in its course. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and the only one of the top 10 leading causes with rapidly rising mortality and prevalence rates, Dr. Petty noted. Furthermore, COPD is associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, heart attack, and stroke. Yet about half of patients with COPD do not know they have it. Approximately 90% of all COPD cases result form smoking. Tobacco dependence and its associated morbidities account for roughly 10% of the national's health care costs.


ASeventy percent of smokers see a physician once a year,@ Dr. Petty said, Aand 70% of that 70% claim they want to stop B if they could, if anybody would help them.@ Talking to these patients about lung health and smoking cessation can be a crucial part of that help. But equally important is routine, ongoing spirometric evaluation for every patient older than age 45 who is a smoker or former smoker. Panelist Dennis Doherty, MD, director of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of Kentucky in Lexington and a member of the NLHEP's executive committee, referred to spirometric results as Aa vital sign.@ The NLHEP also recommends spirometry testing for any patient with persistent cough, mucus, wheezing, or shortness of breath, as well as for anyone exposed to environmental smoke or workplace irritants.

Getting that message to physicians who are not specialists in pulmonary medicine has been a challenge. The NLHEP lacks the government funding that fueled earlier efforts to include cholesterol and blood pressure testing in routine screenings, Dr. Petty reported. However, community initiatives and soon-to-be-published clinical articles should help bring ATest your lungs; know your numbers@ into the forefront, he said. Dr. Petty urges his colleagues in pulmonary medicine to encourage the primary care practitioners in their communities to learn how to use spirometers B and how to interpret the results.

The new generation of office spirometers gives a big boost to the initiative. AIn the last decade or so, spirometry has become less costly and more accurate, safer, and easier to use,@ said panelist Paul Enright, MD, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Dr. Enright, who is also a member of the NLHEP executive committee, noted that office spirometers cost less than $800, and the test takes less than 10 minutes to administer.


Within a few years, more women than men will die of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This grim prediction was made recently by Thomas L. Petty, MD, who also suggested that women may be more susceptible to smoking’s toxic effects. In a recent article in Women’s Health in Primary Care, Dr. Petty noted, "COPD is rapidly becoming a woman’s disease. Data from the CDC demonstrate that the prevalence of chronic bronchitis is now markedly higher in women than in men. Furthermore, among persons under the age of 65, the prevalence of emphysema is also higher in women." As a result, the annual number of deaths due to COPD jumped 27.9% in women between 1992 and 1997, but only 10.9% in men. Physiologic factors that increase women’s susceptibility to COPD include smaller lungs and airways, lower elastic recoil, and increased bronchial reactivity. Although the overall management of COPD is similar in men and women, Dr. Petty suggested that strategies to prevent depression and weight gain are particularly important for women who want to stop smoking.

Source: Petty TL: The rising epidemic of COPD in women. Women’s Health in Primary Care. 1999;2:942-953.



Some primary care physicians resist using spirometry B in part because they fear the problems associated with false readings. But Dr. Petty points out that falsely normal results are impossible and falsely low results are highly unlikely because results must be repeatable within 3%. Furthermore, the goal is to obtain multiple readings over time, not one measurement. As Dr. Petty noted, the idea is to detect patients with declining lung function by tracking forced expiratory volume in one second and forced vital capacity over months or years. By repeating these test over several office visits, physicians can plot results over time and thereby determine if a patient is a Arapid decliner,@ Dr. Doherty explained.

Another concern of primary care physicians is that diagnosing COPD in a patient who has yet to manifest symptoms could hurt more than help; a smoker with a single normal result might presume that he or she had been given a clean bill of health and decline repeat tests. Patient education is the key to avoiding this problem, Dr. Enright said; physicians must make sure that patients understand the meaning of positive and negative test results. The panelists also stressed that early detection is vital; detection of airflow obstruction is often a strong motivator for patients to quit smoking.

Dr. Enright noted that Asusceptible smokers typically lose half a liter of forced expiratory volume per decade. If they stop smoking, they restore about 0.2 L. The rate of decline then becomes that associated with normal aging (i.e., 0.3 L per decade).@


Panelist Michael Fiore, MD, MPH, a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, detailed a practical approach to smoking cessation. His advice: Shift the emphasis from success rates for various anti-smoking aids to a broader focus on the chronic disease of tobacco dependence.

About 25% of US adults currently smoke. In 1965, the smoking rate was about 44%. Although the smoking rate declined steadily from 1965 until 1990, it has held steady since then. Most smokers say that they want to quit, but they are equivocal, Dr. Fiore said. AThey know it's harming them, and they recognize that smoking is a powerful risk factor, but they also know they're addicted to a powerful drug.@

Although about eight in 10 smokers have tried to quit and failed, he advised physicians to stress the importance of repeated attempts. Yes, the patient may fail (again), Dr. Fiore noted; and yes, success is difficult B hence the chronicity of the tobacco-dependence disease. But the benefits of succeeding are so enormous that it is vital that patients keep trying. Physicians should Aremind patients that new smoking cessation aids can make a difference,@ he said.

Simply telling patients to attend an American Lung Association program or a community smoking cessation class Ais not an appropriate standard of care, @Dr. Fiore declared. He then outlined the components of a more adequate response, which are summarized below.



According to Michael Fiore, MD, MPH, a professor of medicine at the University of Wisconsin, physicians must do more than simply tell smokers to attend a smoking cessation class. Four steps you can take to help your patients quit smoking are:


Ideally, Dr. Doherty concluded, the general public would be concerned about how their lungs function and would ask their doctors for spirometric tests so that they can Aknow their numbers.@ He urged clinicians to ask detailed questions about such symptoms as cough or dyspnea on exertion B symptoms that patients often fail to report either because they have unconsciously adjusted to their activity level to compensate or assumed that the symptoms are Anormal@ side effects of smoking. AAnd remember that early treatment, which includes smoking cessation, for those with abnormal [test] results can decrease symptoms, exacerbations, and hospitalizations, and may actually decelerate rapidly declining lung function,@ he emphasized. Ending the panel presentation on an optimistic note, Dr. Doherty said, AMany people see COPD as an irreversible disease, but I think we can reverse at least some of its components.@


B Helen Lippman

Pulmonary Reviews March, 2000;5(3):43,46.