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Do You Have A Chronic Lung Disease?

Do You Have A Chronic Lung Disease?

Approximately 150,000 people in New Zealand have a chronic lung disease but don't know they do. Could you be one of them?

Of the over 200,000 people estimated to have COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) only about 1 in 4 or 5 have had their condition accurately diagnosed.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation of New Zealand, as part of Asthma and Respiratory Week (16-22 March), is encouraging people to assess whether or not they are at risk for COPD and to have a breathing test to reveal this.

Professor Ian Town, Foundation Medical Director says that four factors: being a smoker or an ex-smoker; being breathless more easily than others your age; bringing up phlegm most days; and being over 40, are indicators of being at risk for COPD - a chronic lung disease that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

"If you have two or more of these factors then you should consult your doctor, asthma society or health care professional as irreversible damage to the lungs makes early detection and diagnosis of COPD particularly important.

"If we can get people who have COPD, but don't know they do, to recognise and discuss their symptoms with a health professional, further damage to their lungs may be prevented and their current quality of life can be preserved for as long as possible," says Professor Town.

People with COPD may experience not only shortness of breath but also difficulty eating and exercising, difficulty in maintaining daily activities and weight loss. Some even require continuous oxygen and many are forced into premature retirement.

Kevin Wilson says that being diagnosed with COPD eight years ago was all he needed to finally quit smoking. Mr Wilson requires an oxygen supply for a minimum of 16 hours daily because of this condition.

"I am sure that there are other people out there that still smoke and who would, like me, give up immediately if they knew they had this condition."

Professor Town says that smoking is the most important risk factor for COPD and therefore stopping smoking is the most significant factor in slowing the progression of the disease. Tobacco smoking causes about 85% of all cases of COPD.

The Asthma and Respiratory Foundation also wants the primary health care sector to take the lead in achieving better diagnosis and management of people with COPD. In particular, this means that all smokers should have this noted on their medical records and those over the age of 35 should undergo annual spirometry to identify those who are developing airflow obstruction. All smokers need to be encouraged and supported to quit smoking.

A recent report commissioned by the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation in conjunction with the Thoracic Society of Australia and New Zealand (New Zealand Branch) shows that COPD is a growing and alarming health issue in New Zealand - the impact of which has been greatly underestimated.

In New Zealand, COPD is the fourth leading cause of death after cancer, ischaemic heart disease and stroke. The direct health care costs associated with COPD are estimated to be 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.


Hi my name is Kevin Wilson, I am a 60-year-old man who has always kept reasonably fit playing sport and with my working life. Everything I used to do was done at 100mph. I have had a very enjoyable life so far and will continue to do so even with this breathing problem I now have.

In Easter 1996 after having developed a bad cough and shortness of breath I was diagnosed with emphysema or COPD. Being a smoker the first thing I did was to immediately give up smoking. My GP put me under a specialist at Christchurch Hospital who put me on some medication and inhalers to control my breathing. I carried on working and playing sport until June 1999 when another chest infection caused me to take some time off work. During this period of time I also developed a strain of TB, which was not contagious but took about nine months of treatment to clear up.

In August 1999 I had my first visit to hospital from not being able to breathe. This was the first of 11 visits I have had. There was a very bad one in December 1999 when I came close to losing the fight. My admissions have been for panic attacks, depression, punctured lung, stress - all as a consequence of having COPD.

Shortness of breath is a terrifying experience, which only those who suffer from it can know. It is easy to panic when you become short of breath and I have learnt how to overcome this so I can have a better quality of life. The way I overcame my continual shortness of breath was to teach myself, with the help of physiotherapists, doctors & nurses, ways to breathe properly and also not to overdo things. I have had to remember that I cannot do what I used to.

Some of the more troublesome tasks each day are showering, dressing, walking, eating etc and I have to control these things so as my days are not too tiring. The easiest way I found to overcome most of the problems related with everyday life was to SLOW DOWN.

When I first became ill I used to carry on doing things as if nothing had happened and I got very depressed because I couldn’t manage. One of the most important things I do is to EXERCISE DAILY, as this helps to keep me fit.

After the hospital visit in December (the bad one) I resigned from work as I knew there was no hope of being able to carry on. During the first year after this I became very depressed and didn’t really care too much about anything. I feel I lost a year of my life during this period and would have improved a lot sooner if I had stayed positive. I know it is not easy to say stay positive and to keep focused on your goals and what lies ahead but it has helped me to stay out of hospital and I feel better for it. The reason I don't go into hospital much now is that I have learned to cope with what I have, and am prepared to do what I can, in my own time.


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