COPD’s Growing Burden

Environmental Pollution and the Global Rise in COPD Footprint (D10)

9:15-11:15 a.m. Wednesday

Room 145 A-B (Middle Building, Street Level), Walter E. Washington Convention Center

COPD, a leading cause of death in the U.S. and around the world, is not just a smoker’s disease.

“We still tend to think of tobacco smoke as the only cause of COPD,” says Yolanda Mageto, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at Baylor Scott and White Health in Dallas. “An increasingly important cause, and one we don’t often think about, is environmental pollution, particulate matter, and biomass fuels. We are seeing more and more people with COPD who have never smoked. All of us, as pulmonary care providers and researchers, need to understand that the burden of COPD is far greater than we used to think it was.”

The good news is that most COPD deaths are preventable.

Yolanda Mageto, MD, MPH

In the last decade, COPD deaths in the U.S. have continued to rise, in part, because of environmental pollution, she says. Outside the U.S., environmental factors are also an issue. In some areas, the primary culprit is the burning of biomass fuels for cooking and power generation. In other areas, COPD is driven by industrial and transportation-based pollution. And tobacco smoke continues to promote COPD worldwide.

“We don’t live in isolation,” notes Dr. Mageto, one of the moderators of Wednesday’s COPD symposium. “As physicians, we see people from China, from India, from Africa, and from Latin America who have immigrated to the United States. We all see people who have lived overseas, sometimes for decades, and are returning with a variety of diseases, including COPD. This is a very timely discussion of a disease that has not gotten the attention that it needs and deserves.”

Ongoing studies show that reducing environmental exposures can help prevent COPD, which underscores the importance of reducing the use of biomass fuels as well as tobacco use and other sources of airborne pollution.

It is equally important to reduce emissions of small particulate matter, ozone, and other less visible pollutants. Population studies show a higher incidence of asthma in areas with elevated levels of small particulates. Recognizing that moderate and severe persistent asthma can progress to COPD emphasizes the need to reduce environmental exposures.

“Environmental pollution is not just something that affects developing countries. It affects us all,” Dr. Mageto says. “We all breathe this air, and we all treat people with this problem. No matter what area of pulmonary medicine you are involved in, we are all affected by environmental pollution and its effect on the lungs.”

Environmental Pollution and the Global Rise in COPD Footprint (D10) is supported by educational grants from AstraZeneca LP, GlaxoSmithKline, Mylan, Inc., and Teva Pharmaceuticals.

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