What is COPD?

man breaking cigarette

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is a chronic respiratory condition, which causes the lungs to become inflamed, creating airflow obstructions. This condition is not fully curable. 

Ten percent of the population of Spain between the ages of 40 and 80 are affected by this condition. COPD is believed to be the fourth highest known cause of death in Spain, with a higher prevalence than lung cancer. 

The World Health Organisation currently estimates that by 2030, COPD will be one of the top three causes of death in the world.

Smoking is the primary cause of COPD. Approximately 50% of people diagnosed with this disease classify themselves as smokers. With this in mind, one of the best ways to reduce your chances of developing this inflammatory disease is to avoid smoking. Whether this is in the form of stopping smoking, or not starting smoking, both are positive preventive actions. 

Dr. Julio Ancochea, head of the Pneumology department at the Hospital Universitario de la Princesa, Madrid says: "The most effective way to tackle COPD is by prevention. It is absolutely vital to promote the dangers of smoking to young people.” 

Esteban Palomo, director of Patient Advocacy at GSK (GlaxoSmithKline - pharmaceutical company), Spain says: “Most smokers start during adolescence, in fact over 90% of smokers have already started by the time they turned 18."

 "The biggest challenge for us is to discourage children and children and adolescents from starting to smoke. We need to give our children the facts, promote good habits and provide the correct environment to give them the confidence to say ‘no’. There is a thin line between that first cigarette and addiction.”

Other factors that can increase the chances of developing COPD including, are exposure to toxic fumes, chemicals, dust or harmful pollutants. 

Myths about COPD

1. Shortness of breath is the only symptom of COPD. This is just one of many symptoms suffers have to endure. Other symptoms include: wheezing, a persistent cough, excessive phlegm, and fatigue.


2. It only affects older people. It’s likely that many people develop the early stages of COPD before they reach 40, although most people are not diagnosed until they reach their 50s or 60s

3. COPD and asthma are the same. These are different inflammatory diseases, but the symptoms are similar.

4. Exercise makes COPD worse. Exercise can actually be beneficial for COPD sufferers, provided it is at the right intensity and duration. Good examples include walking, cycling, low-impact aerobics, and aqua aerobics. It is understood that daily walks is one of the best forms of exercise for people diagnosed with COPD. 

5. Having a healthy diet does not help to control the disease. This is completely untrue. Taking care of your diet can both help to improve energy levels and your overall health and well-being. 

6. COPD ruins your life. If you follow treatment programmes along with a healthy diet and lifestyle, a person with COPD can lead a completely normal and fulfilling life.

7. Nothing can be done to treat the disease. There is no cure for COPD, but this disease is manageable with the support of medical professionals. Treatments include: medicines, supplemental oxygen supplies or surgery. 

8. Weight does not affect COPD: Being overweight can make the symptoms of COPD worse, for example it can exacerbate breathing problems.

COPD in Spain


A nationwide study on COPD, ‘ESPICAN II’ aimed to estimate the impact of the disease on people over 40, living in Spain. The preliminary results of the study found Catalonia, Extremadura and Galicia to be the areas most affected by COPD. Whereas Asturias, Murcia and La Rioja were found to have the lowest incidences of COPD. These findings were presented at the 29th International European Respiratory Congress (ERS).

"EPISCAN II scientists are currently assessing whether variable levels of activity such as active smoking and passive smoking, exposure to chemicals and toxins in the workplace, or other factors explain the variations from region to region," explains Dr. Joan B. Soriano, epidemiologist at the Hospital Universitario de la Princesa, Madrid, and ESPISCAN II committee member.

EPISCAN II was initiated by GSK in collaboration with the Spanish Society of Pneumology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR). This is the largest study to date specifically focusing on the impact of COPD on Spain. The research involved around 10,000 people from 20 different hospitals and clinics across Spain. 

One key finding: 11.8% of people over the age of 40 in Spain suffer from this chronic respiratory disease.

Soriano commented: "This research is significant as it confirms that COPD is one of the most prevalent chronic diseases affecting adults in Spain.”

EPISCAN II is a follow up study to the original EPISCAN research. Ten years on and medical experts say that the results of the latest study are concerning. Dr. Juan José Soler, head of the Pneumology Service at Arnau de Vilanova-Liria Hospital in Valencia, points out that "the prevalence of COPD has increased from 10.2% to 11.8% of people over 40, which is worrying. This prevalence increases even more with age. We also found a large increase in the disease amongst women, which is particularly striking.”

The study highlighted that COPD affects 34.7% of men and 26.1% of women over the age of 80, which is almost one in three people the 80+ age bracket. 

Early detection: the big challenge

One of the challenges faced by medical professionals is identifying early signs of COPD in patients. According to research from ESPISCAN II, 74.7% of COPD diagnoses are not made until the disease has matured. This means many people who have COPD are not aware of their condition and as a result are unable to be treated to relieve symptoms.

Dr. Soriano concludes, "Though there is still a lot of work to do, the analysis of low radiation CT image data and blood biomarkers should help us identify strategies to reduce underdiagnosis in the future”. 

“The best advice I can offer is - if you smoke, stop. It's never too late to reduce the impact of COPD, because the sooner you stop smoking, the more chance you have of slowing down any potential onset of COPD."

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