Report: Iowans have COPD at a rate higher than the national average

DES MOINES — About five-percent of all Americans have the lung condition known as COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but new research shows the rate in Iowa is higher than the national average at about six-point-six percent.

Pulmonologist Dr. Bobby Mahajan, at the American Lung Association, says about 15-percent of Iowans smoke, and that’s one of the leading causes of COPD.

“Unfortunately, Iowa still has a grade of a ‘D’ in smoking cessation services,” Mahajan says. “The best way to reduce the incidence of COPD is to diagnose it, but once we’ve diagnosed it, we want a way to stop that smoking and smoking cessation is an important part of that where Iowa could do better.”

COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a long-term lung disease that makes it hard to breathe, though some people try to ignore the symptoms. “Most individuals will say, ‘Yeah, well, I’m just getting older and that’s why I get more short of breath,’ but in many cases, they need to be able to get checked out by their primary care physician, because that might not just be deconditioning or getting older,” he says. “It might be COPD.”

The latest figures show about 161,000 Iowans have been diagnosed with COPD, while about 1,600 die from it each year. Diagnosis comes through specialized lung tests.

“Typical symptoms that we see are shortness of breath at rest, or on exertion and doing daily activities, like walking to the bathroom, going to the grocery store, getting dressed,” Mahajan says. “Additionally, people can sometimes have chronic bronchitis associated their COPD where they cough a lot and produce a lot of sputum.”

The American Lung Association report shows the annual cost of treating COPD in Iowa is $391-million, while Iowans lose more than 235,000 work days to the disease each year. There is no cure, but once identified, COPD patients do have several courses of action which can improve their lives.

“They can be treated with a number of different options,” Mahajan says. “Sometimes, medications like inhalers can improve their functionality and their breathing significantly. Other things like pulmonary rehabilitation, where we actually strengthen the breathing muscles, is associated with not only improvement in symptoms but it improves survival as well.”

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