Medical Professionals Online

Out Of Breath: Many Canadians Avoid Everyday Activities Because Of COPD

September 11, 2017

Up to 79 per cent of Canadians with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) avoid everyday activities, such as playing with their grandkids or even walking up stairs, according to the Quit Now - Breathe Better Survey, a new Canadian Lung Association survey released just in time for National Non-Smoking Week.

"Thousands of people are missing out because they do not understand COPD, or they are not even aware they have the disease," says Dr. Darcy Marciniuk, professor of medicine at the University of Saskatchewan and Chair of the Canadian Thoracic Society COPD Committee, the medical section of the Canadian Lung Association.

COPD, also known as chronic bronchitis and/or emphysema, is a chronic, progressive lung disease usually caused by smoking, but can also be caused by inherited conditions or occupational exposures. About 750,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with the diseasei, and anyone who has smoked and had frequent respiratory symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, phlegm) or has frequent lung infections, could be at risk for developing COPD.

The survey found that 17 per cent of Canadians at risk for the disease do not believe COPD is as serious as other chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes, but in reality it is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada.ii

Lung attacks or "COPD flare-ups" are also the main cause of hospitalization from chronic medical conditions in Canada, according to the Canadian Thoracic Society. COPD flare-ups are sudden and sustained worsening of symptoms that can lead to hospitalization, restricted mobility and shortness of breath, or even death.

The effects of smoking: body and lifestyle

Denise Bedard was diagnosed with COPD at the age of 42. The Nova Scotia hairdresser had been smoking since the age of 13 and struggled with the smoking addiction for many years - until she saw the real effect both her habit, and the disease caused by it, had on her body and lifestyle.

"Like so many people I didn't give much thought to the effect smoking was having on my health. That is, until I couldn't work anymore because of my COPD," says Bedard "Now that I see what I am doing to myself I am determined to quit smoking.

Know the symptoms

According to the Quit Now - Breathe Better Survey, half of at-risk Canadians polled (51 per cent) have already experienced one or more of the common symptoms of COPD, such as persistent cough, fatigue, phlegm (mucous) and shortness of breath. In current smokers, 74 per cent have experienced one or more symptoms.

Yet the survey also revealed 39 per cent of smokers actually avoid seeking medical advice for some of their COPD symptoms because they fear they are the consequence of smoking.

"The key to treating COPD and slowing the progression of the disease is to catch it early and treat it right away, which is why it is so important for anyone who has these symptoms to see their doctor and ask about spirometry, a simple breathing test," says Dr. Marciniuk. "If patients learned to properly manage their disease sooner and more regularly, they could stop missing out on the everyday activities they love. There is so much we can do help these patients."

The Canadian Lung Association offers help to the thousands of Canadians looking to make better respiratory decisions.

Quit smoking -- Beat the addiction

Quitting smoking is one of the most important steps you can take to prevent COPD. The Canadian Lung Association offers support for those who want quit smoking, by providing information on how to quit, and referrals to local quit programs and support groups.

Make the right lifestyle choices

Join a pulmonary rehabilitation program, a special class that teaches exercise and nutrition, can help you cope with COPD and how to conserve your energy in your day-to-day activities.

Monitor your health

Speak with your health care provider regularly and update them with your symptoms and disease management goals. Also, ask you health care provider to develop an action plan that you can follow to help manage your COPD.

Maintain your medication routine

Taking your medications as prescribed is essential helping to manage COPD, and potentially slowing disease progression. The survey reveals that nearly one in three (35 per cent) Canadians diagnosed with COPD do not always take their medication as prescribed by their physician and one in 10 (12 per cent) do not always keep their rescue medication up to date. In fact, 43 per cent of respondents are not even aware COPD can be managed with medications. It is important to speak with your physician to understand when medication should be taken and the risks of missing doses.

Other findings from the Quit Now - Breathe Better Survey revealed:

- 53 per cent do not speak with their doctor about their COPD symptoms because they don't think it's anything serious
- 27 per cent of diagnosed and at risk Canadians who have not seen a doctor about their symptoms say they know their doctor is just going to tell them to stop smoking
- 17 per cent of diagnosed and at risk Canadians who have not seen a doctor about their symptoms don't think there are serious consequences related to any of their COPD symptoms

About the Quit Now - Breathe Better Survey

The Canadian Lung Association commissioned Leger Marketing to survey Canadians at risk of developing Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) to gain a better understanding of their attitudes and behaviours. Leger Marketing conducted an online survey of 806 Canadians at risk for or diagnosed with COPD to determine their awareness of COPD and treatment of their disease. 700 of the 806 were classified as 'at risk' by self identifying with one or more of the following: past smoker, current smoker, history of chronic bronchitis, suffer from emphysema, live with a moderate to heavy smoker, work / have worked in an environment with a high proportion of air pollution. 106 of the 806 Canadians said they had been diagnosed with COPD.

The Leger poll and public awareness campaign were made possible through an unrestricted educational grant from GlaxoSmithKline Inc.

i 2009 Canadian Community Health Survey from Stats Canada, see here.

ii Canadian Lung Association, The Human and Economic Burden of COPD: A Leading Cause of Hospital Admission in Canada, 2010

Canadian Thoracic Society (CTS)
Canadian Lung Association