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Chronic Lung Disease – Who Wants To Know?

Press release
10 November 2004


Chronic lung disease is very poorly understood, many blame the disease on the individual and even with so much attention to being smokefree there is precious little awareness about this condition that is primarily caused by smoking tobacco.

However, the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation has put a lot of energy over the past year into creating and extending awareness about Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) - a chronic lung disease that affects an increasing number of people in New Zealand.

The Foundation's latest project timed to mark World COPD Day 2004 on November 17 involves bringing COPD to the attention of primary care teams nationwide by providing each with a newly developed COPD resource kit.

This resource pack was developed because of requests from health professionals and in light of recent research that estimates that only 1 in 4 or 5 of the 200,000 New Zealanders with COPD have had their condition accurately diagnosed.

Since COPD can be such a debilitating disease causing irreversible damage to the lungs, it is vitally important for the quality of life of the people with this disease to catch it as early as possible. To aid GPs in correct diagnosis the resource kit has a COPD algorithm that focuses particularly on the diagnostic differences between asthma and COPD.

Spirometry, which measures an individual's lung capacity, is a vital tool in the correct diagnosis of COPD so a booklet on spirometry is included in the resource pack.

Also included in the kit is a revised and updated COPD Self Management Plan - a new resource based on material originally developed in Christchurch. This plan, which should be developed by the GP, involves the individual in managing their condition including what to do when things get worse.

Professor Ian Town, Foundation Medical Director says that the impact of COPD on New Zealand has been greatly underestimated and is a growing and alarming health issue in New Zealand. Hospitalisations due to COPD each year are projected to rise significantly over the next decade.

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

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

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. COPD may now be one of the leading causes of death and disability in New Zealand.

The resource pack has had detailed input from Foundation staff, general practitioners and physicians, along with consumer input. For the Foundation's existing resources on COPD please visit, as these are also of value to patients with COPD and their health care advisors.



1.. COPD – Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is a chronic lung disease that includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

2.. Irreversible damage to the lungs from COPD makes early detection and diagnosis particularly important.

3.. 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.

4.. 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.

5.. Becoming smokefree is the single most important step to preventing COPD and to slowing its progression.


· 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 is the fourth leading cause of death after cancer, ischaemic heart disease and stroke

· COPD may now be one of the leading causes of death and disability in New Zealand

· 85% of all cases of COPD are caused by tobacco smoking

For further key findings of the "Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Lung Cancer in New Zealand" report see The Burden of COPD in New Zealand summary report (to view go to

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

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