Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease Surpasses Stroke As Third Leading Cause of Death

(August 15, 2011)

New data released by the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that the deaths from Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (CLRD) are on the rise, and that it has surpassed stroke as the third leading cause of the death in the United States. CLRD deaths – with includes asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and other lower respiratory illnesses – rose 7.8 percent from 2007 – 2008, the most recent years for which data is available. At the same time, stroke deaths dropped 20 percent. 

CDC advises that the data be approached with caution, however, as there were changes made in 2008 to the way that CLRDs are coded and classified; it is unclear at this point to what extent these changes contributed to the increase shown for this cause of death. 

Of the diseases included in the data, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which combines many of the features of both chronic bronchitis and emphysema, accounts for more than 120,000 U.S. deaths each year, and causes serious, long-term disability. Often COPD symptoms are dismissed as natural signs of aging, or being out of shape. 

The Wisconsin COPD Report and state plan, released last November, includes the following key findings: 

- Based on the 2009 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey (BRFSS), the current prevalence rate of COPD in Wisconsin is approximately 3%. However, the prevalence rate for those 65 or older is 8%. 
- Current smoking prevalence among those with COPD is 39% compared to only 19% in the general population (BRFSS 2009).
- According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, in 2008, 2,454 Wisconsin residents died from chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or other chronic lower respiratory diseases, not including asthma. 
- In 2008, the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) reported 8,390 hospitalizations for COPD in Wisconsin accounting for $131.6 million in direct medical expenses. 
- In 2008, there were 6,755 emergency department visits for COPD, which accounted for $13 million in direct medical expenses (WHA). 
- The number of people with COPD is rising, both nationwide and in Wisconsin.

Here are several things YOU can do to live a longer, more active life.

1. Be aware of the risk factors, primarily smoking and repeated exposure to harsh chemicals or fumes, air pollution or other lung irritants. 
2. Recognize the symptoms – shortness of breath, chronic cough, decline in activity level. 
3. If you do smoke, quit. The American Lung Association has a variety of smoking cessation options that are nationally acknowledged “Best Practices.” 
4. Ask your doctor about a simple breathing test called Spirometry. 
5. Follow treatment advice 

If you’ve already been diagnosed with COPD, here are four things you can do to help manage your illness: 

1. Take medication as director by your doctor. 
2. Enroll in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. 
3. Avoid pollutants or fumes that can irritate your lungs. 
4. Get and flu and pneumonia shots as directed by your doctor. 

While there is no cure for COPD, by increasing knowledge and understanding about what symptoms look and feel like, health professional can promote early diagnosis and treatment that can make a tremendous difference in slowing the progression of the disease and improve quality of life. 

For more information about COPD programs and support groups, contact the American Lung Association in Wisconsin, 1-800-LUNG-USA. To speak directly to a medical professional about COPD, smoking cessation and other lung disease questions, call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-548-8252.