On November 15th, healthcare organizations across the globe are observing World COPD Day 2023 by emphasizing the importance of early disease detection.

Organized each year by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), World COPD Day is a global initiative to raise awareness, share knowledge, and discuss ways to reduce the burden of COPD worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COPD is the third leading cause of death worldwide, causing 3.23 million deaths in 2019. In the United States, 148,512 people died from COPD in 2020, according to the American Lung Association. Worldwide, tobacco smoking accounts for over 70% of COPD cases in high-income countries and 30–40% of COPD cases in low- and middle-income countries, where household air pollution is a major risk factor, WHO reports. In the US, Most COPD cases are caused by cigarette smoking. Compared to never smokers (1.8% diagnosed), COPD rates are 7 times higher among current smokers (13% diagnosed) and 5 times higher among former smokers (9.4% diagnosed), according to Lung Association data.

This year’s event, titled “Breathing is Life – Act Earlier: World COPD Day 2023,” focuses on the crucial role of early diagnosis and early intervention in managing COPD, but also recognizes the role that genetic and environmental risk factors play in the risk of developing COPD over a lifetime, according to GOLD. The initiative hopes to expand COPD prevention and treatment by acting earlier, including prevention of early risk factors, monitoring lung health from birth, diagnosing COPD in a precursor state, and providing treatment promptly.

“We now know that there are many other factors besides tobacco smoking that can contribute to COPD and that COPD can start early in life and even effect young individuals. In addition, we have now identified precursor conditions that can provide new opportunities for early diagnosis and prompt treatment, like preCOPD and PRISm,” GOLD stated in a news release. “This significant development in COPD shows the importance of considering lung health from development all the way into adulthood.”

According to the GOLD 2023 Report on COPD, patients without a COPD diagnosis may still present with symptoms. These “preCOPD” patients are those with respiratory symptoms (and/or structural lung lesions and/or physiological abnormalities without airflow obstruction. Another term, “PRISm” (Preserved Ratio Impaired Spirometry) identifies patients with normal ratio but abnormal spirometry. GOLD states that preCOPD/PRISm patients are at risk of developing airflow obstruction over time, but not all of them do.

“Understanding the early life origins of COPD may help us target ways to both prevent the disease and slow its progression. There is a higher likelihood of a positive response if we can diagnosis the disease at its inception, or in very early stages,” GOLD chairman Dr. Alvar Agusti said in a news release.

Several international respiratory organizations are joining GOLD in observing World COPD Day, including:

  • The Forum of International Respiratory Societies (FIRS), which includes:
  • American College of Chest Physicians (CHEST)
  • American Thoracic Society (ATS)
  • Asian Pacific Society of Respirology (APSR)
  • Asociación Latino Americana De Tórax (ALAT)
  • European Respiratory Society (ERS)
  • International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Diseases (The Union), and
  • Pan African Thoracic Society (PATS)

According to GOLD, initiatives to reduce the burden of COPD are taking place worldwide, including smoking-cessation programs, tackling both indoor and outdoor air pollution, as well as examining childhood disadvantage factors.

“Although there is no current cure for COPD, actions to prevent it and improve quality of life can take place anywhere, by a variety of individuals in many types of settings. Employers can strive for safe breathing environments. Citizens can be good stewards of air cleanliness. Both patients and families can help advocate for more research and better access to care, including essential medications, routine lung function screening and other treatments like telehealth access for patients in remote settings,” GOLD stated in a press release. 

In addition, providers and policy makers can work together to improve access to spirometry (lung function testing) and advocate for its use as a general health marker at all stages of life, important not only for the diagnosis of lung diseases but also as a general health marker.

The organizations urge healthcare providers, patients and the public to participate in World COPD Day 2023 events: “Together, we can raise awareness, promote early action, and improve the lives of those affected by COPD.”