The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends against COPD screening for people without signs or symptoms of the disease because it does not improve overall health. The task force says this is a “D” recommendation.

The agency says the recommendation is not for people who have signs or symptoms of COPD, were previously diagnosed with COPD, or who are at very high risk of COPD such as people with an inherited disorder that can cause COPD or workers exposed to certain toxins at their job.

COPD, the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, limits the airflow to a person’s lungs making it difficult to breathe. It has no known cure, but there are treatments available that manage symptoms of COPD.

“COPD is a serious condition that affects the health of many adults in the United States, but research continues to show it is not beneficial to screen people without symptoms for COPD,” says Task Force member Katrina Donahue, M.D., M.P.H. “The USPSTF does not recommend screening for COPD in people who do not have signs or symptoms of the disease because it does not improve their overall health.”

Current and former smokers are at the highest risk of developing COPD. In addition, people frequently exposed to pollutants like secondhand smoke, traffic pollution, or toxic chemicals are also at risk for developing COPD.

“While screening for COPD in people without symptoms is not recommended, healthcare professionals can still help prevent their patients from getting COPD,” says Task Force chair Carol Mangione, MD, MSPH. “Most cases of COPD are caused by smoking, so it’s essential healthcare professionals support their patients, including young people, in not starting to smoke and helping those who do smoke quit.”

Patients should share any concerns they have about their breathing with their healthcare professionals. Healthcare professionals should also be alert to patients who have respiratory symptoms and use their clinical judgment to provide appropriate care.