Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive disease for which there is no cure. However, the disease may be managed with the right treatment. In November 2020 Orion Pharma a Finnish pharmaceutical company, commissioned a survey to find out what level of knowledge exists among ordinary people in Finland, Germany and Spain (N=1,000 for each country) concerning the symptoms and treatment of COPD. According to the survey, there are differences in knowledge in the three countries.
World COPD Day is celebrated today, 18 November 2020. The aim of the day is to raise awareness, share knowledge and discuss ways of reducing the burden of COPD worldwide. COPD is a group of different lung conditions that make it difficult for the person with the condition to breathe and they cause permanent damage to the airways. This tightening of the lungs occurs most often in older people, especially those over the age of 60. Smokers and people who have worked with chemicals are especially at risk of developing COPD as they grow older.
According to a survey commissioned by Orion Pharma, Finns were most aware of the effects of smoking on COPD: as many as 94% of Finns knew that smoking was one of the causes of the disease. The number was 76% and 66% in Spain and Germany, respectively.
Smoking is the biggest risk factor for COPD. As many as 75% of patients with COPD have smoked or continue to smoke. However, not all people with COPD have smoked, and not all smokers develop COPD. In each of the three countries where the survey was commissioned, there were respondents who regularly or occasionally smoked. In Finland, of 1000 respondents, almost one third stated they smoked regularly or occasionally. In the other two countries, the number was higher: about two fifths in Spain and almost half in Germany.
The disease tends to develop gradually over a period of years, with the airways becoming inflamed and obstructed, making it harder to breathe. Many people can go for years without realising they have the condition.
Feeling short of breath and wheezing are two warning signs of potential COPD. People with the condition commonly develop a chesty cough that produces lots of mucus, which often manifests as the need to clear your throat just after waking up.
A quarter of Finns and Germans think that they recognise the symptoms of COPD pretty well. The number was lower in Spain, where only about 15% of respondents think they recognise the symptoms pretty well.
The best identified symptoms were shortness of breath and a chronic cough. Respondents who regularly or occasionally smoke identified the symptoms better than non-smoking respondents in all three countries.
According to Witold Mazur, MD, a specialist in respiratory medicine from Helsinki University Hospital, patients with COPD often do not seek medical attention.
“COPD develops and progresses insidiously. The patient becomes accustomed to the symptoms. For smokers or quitters, one of the first symptoms may be shortness of breath that occurs, for example, when climbing stairs or walking uphill,” says Mazur.
Although there is no cure for COPD, there are ways to relieve the symptoms of the disease if it is diagnosed early. The diagnosis of COPD is confirmed by a spirometry test. If symptoms start to appear in someone who has smoked for a long time, they should see a doctor as soon as possible.
The best way to start treating COPD symptoms is to stop smoking and eliminate exposure to any fumes that could have contributed to the development of the disease. Survey respondents in every country recognised quitting smoking as a treatment option for COPD.
The survey also mapped respondents’ knowledge of COPD treatments. In Finland and Spain, the most popular identified answer by respondents was to quit smoking. However, in Germany it was only the third most popular answer. In all three countries, about 70% of respondents knew that COPD can be also treated with oxygen therapy.
There are medications available for COPD patients. The disease is mostly treated with medications that are inhaled. Bronchodilators are drugs, usually inhaled, that help relax the airways. They can be short- or long-acting. Anti-inflammatory medication may also help.
Finnish respondents were most aware that COPD can also be managed by a healthy lifestyle: half of Finnish respondents named exercise as a treatment for the disease. In Spain, exercise was named by almost a third of respondents, while in Germany the response was under one fifth. However, a healthy diet and exercise will help control the symptoms and make breathing easier.
Exercise is actually one of the best treatments to reduce chest tightness as it can help with breathing and get rid of extra mucus to free up the lungs. Depending on a patient’s condition, walking or light jogging can be good activities to start with. Besides exercise, maintaining an ideal body weight is important in the treatment of COPD. If the patient is overweight, losing some weight can make it easier to breathe. A treating physician can help with making the best exercise choices.
“With COPD, the most important form of pharmaceutical treatment is inhaled treatments. The products are short-acting, which the patient uses when needed, and long-acting, which the patient should use permanently. The treatment should be individually tailored to the patient in question,” says Mazur.
However, Mazur stresses that a diagnosis of COPD does not mean the end of the world.
“There are many ways to influence the progress of the disease and the patient's well-being. Lifestyle changes in smoking, exercise and diet, as well as individualised care and support from relatives, are important elements of holistic care that can alleviate the patient’s symptoms and reduce the risk of both exacerbations and infections,” Mazur concludes.
Orion invests in research and development of treatment options for people with asthma and COPD while also developing the design and usability of the Easyhaler® inhaler device platform. The focus is on safety and quality in each step of the product life cycle while taking care of the environment. All aspects of sustainability - social, economic and environmental - are carefully considered in the whole product life cycle. Sustainability is entwined in the whole process from R&D through manufacturing, including patient use and the disposal of old inhalers.