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The Impact Of Copd Will Leave You Breathless

Media Release
19 November 2003

The Impact Of Copd Will Leave You Breathless

Whilst smoke free legislation is being debated by politicians, a new report released today, World COPD Day, shows that a respiratory illness caused by smoking, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a growing and alarming health issue in New Zealand.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation of New Zealand commissioned the report in conjunction with the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (New Zealand Branch) and is calling for New Zealand to follow the WHO's lead and make COPD (chronic bronchitis and emphysema) a health priority.

Professor Ian Town, Foundation Medical Director, says that the impact of this condition on New Zealand has been greatly underestimated.

The direct health care costs associated with COPD are estimated at least $192 million per year. Hospitalisations due to COPD each year are projected to rise from 9250 in 1999, to 12,000 by 2007 and 14,700 in 2012. COPD may now be one of the leading causes of death and disability in New Zealand.

Overwhelmingly caused by tobacco smoking (85% of all cases), COPD is a preventable disease. "Prevention of COPD and limiting its progression are important in reducing the impact of COPD on individuals, the health care system and the country," says Professor Ian Town.

"Not smoking is the single most important step to preventing COPD and to slowing its progression," he says. The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation applauds and supports the smoke free legislation for its role in reducing exposure to harmful tobacco smoke.

Michael Campbell, New Zealand golf champion, supports World COPD Day. Michael says that he gave up smoking because it affected his physical health. As a top professional golfer he must be in peak physical condition to be able to compete against his peers.

"As a role model I feel it is important that I portray a healthy living style to all New Zealanders."

"I want to continue having an active and healthy life into middle and old age - to be there for my family. I'd like other New Zealanders to have that too.

"I also want to draw attention to the far greater health problems for Maori due to smoking", says Michael Campbell. There are an estimated 650 Maori deaths a year from smoking. In 2002, the Ministry of Health statistics showed that 48.6% of Maori over 15 years of age smoke, more than double their European counterparts.

"I urge people to consider giving up smoking, to give it their best shot and for people who don't smoke - please don't start."

Irreversible damage to the lungs makes early detection of COPD particularly important. Of the 200,000 people in New Zealand estimated to have COPD, only 1 in 4 or 5 have had a diagnosis confirmed by a doctor. Many either have not been accurately diagnosed or have not discussed the symptoms with their GP.

The primary health care sector needs to take the lead by discussing COPD with people who smoke, accurately diagnosing COPD using lung function tests (spirometry) and managing this condition following the new COPD Guidelines.

In New Zealand COPD is the fourth leading cause of death after cancer, ischaemic heart disease and stroke. People with COPD may experience shortness of breath, difficulty eating and exercising, difficulty in maintaining their daily activities and weight loss. Some people may even require continuous oxygen and many are forced into premature retirement.

For further key findings of the "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Lung Cancer in New Zealand" report see the "Burden of COPD" included with this media release.


Background information

The Foundation
- Will be making the COPD Guidelines available through the Foundation's website
- Is expecting to distribute a summary of the COPD guidelines and a treatment algorithm to GP's early next year
- Will be focussing on COPD at next year's annual awareness week and Community Respiratory Educators Workshop (CREW)
- Will be developing a COPD Management Plan similar to the Asthma Management Plan, which will be used as a tool for primary health care givers in managing the condition.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation of NZ (Inc.) is a non-governmental charitable organisation that provides education, information, advocacy and research on asthma and other respiratory conditions. All of our resources are free to download from


Asthma is a condition that affects the airways of the lungs. The airways become hyper reactive (extra sensitive) and react to things that do not affect other people such as cigarette smoke, animal dander and cold air. These triggers cause the airways to tighten, partially close up, swell inside and make more mucus. When this happens breathing becomes a struggle.

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) is an umbrella term, which covers conditions such as emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and chronic asthma. Also known as CORD or CAL (chronic obstructive respiratory disease or chronic airways limitation). People with COPD have shortness of breath when exercising, cough with phlegm and frequent bouts of bronchitis in the winter. COPD is non-reversible – the treatment consists of preventing further damage (giving up smoking) and managing the symptoms.

Major Differences between COPD and Asthma

Asthma ---> COPD
Typically begins at any age ---> Sufferer usually over 40years
No direct relationship with smoking ---> Mainly smokers and ex-smokers
Episodic attacks with exposures to allergen, irritant or exercise ---> Progressive shortness of breath, usually with exercise
Dry, hacking cough usually in the evening (not always present) ---> Productive cough usually in the morning

Bronchiectasis In bronchiectasis there has been direct damage or destruction to the airway walls. This can be the result of infections, inhalation of noxious chemicals or damage from another lung condition. Most people with bronchiectasis have a chronic, productive cough because of the extra mucus being produced. It is a condition that is a lot more common than previously thought.

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