The chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) Global Burden of Disease report shows that the worldwide COPD prevalence is at an all-time high and is projected to rise to first place among all the leading causes of death by the year 2030.
While the condition itself is fairly innocuous and affects mostly older people, the social and economic burden that it places on patients and carers is significant. COPD-related costs amount to billions of dollars worldwide each year. In the United States alone, the direct and indirect costs of COPD were estimated to be $16.67 billion in 2017.
With more people living with COPD and the aging of the population, the number of people affected is projected to rise considerably in the coming years. This presents a significant challenge to healthcare providers seeking to improve outcomes for this patient population while managing costs.
What is COPD?
Put simply, COPD stands for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. As the name suggests, it is a type of pulmonary disorder that results in obstructed airflow in the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. In addition to this physical discomfort, people with COPD often experience the social stigma that comes with being labeled as ‘a burden to others’.’
The exact cause of COPD is unknown, though it is believed to have a combination of genetic and environmental factors. The disorder is typically progressive and can be complicated by repeated hospitalizations. It is also one of the major contributors to the Global Burden of Disease. Healthcare providers must understand the challenges that this disease presents if they are to provide the best possible care for their patients.
Why Do People Get Sick With COPD?
It is important to understand what causes COPD in order to devise effective preventive strategies. While there is no single ‘cause of’ COPD, there are multiple risk factors that have been identified as contributing to its development. These include:
- Age – The prevalence of COPD increases steeply with age, especially above the age of 60. This is likely due to the cumulative effect of repeated exposure to risk factors over the years, leading to the development of the disease.
- Gender – Men are more likely to develop COPD than women. This is likely due to their higher exposure to risk factors such as tobacco smoke and occupational exposures. Men also have a longer life expectancy, which means they have more opportunities to develop the disease.
- Race – African-Americans and Native-Americans are more likely to develop COPD than other races. This may be due to their genetic makeup or their exposure to risk factors, such as tobacco smoke. However, more research is needed to fully understand the reasons behind this increased risk.
- Family history – If one or more of your parents, siblings, or children have had or currently have COPD, then you have an increased chance of developing the disease yourself. This is called hereditary COPD.
- Obesity – There is a link between obesity and COPD, though the exact nature of the connection is unknown. Research has shown that people with COPD are more likely to be obese than those without the disease. The connection appears to be genetic, as people with a history of obesity have an increased chance of developing COPD. Furthermore, those with COPD are at an increased risk of becoming obese. This may be due to their illness affecting their appetite or it could be because of the impact of the disease on their energy levels. For this reason, maintaining a healthy weight is an important part of the treatment for those with COPD, especially as obesity has so many health risks.
- Tobacco smoke – Although it is well-established that tobacco smoke is harmful to human health, it is still one of the main causes of COPD. In fact, it is estimated that 90% of people with the disease were once smokers. However, it is important to note that not all smokers will develop COPD; it depends on the genetic makeup of the individual and their level of exposure to the toxin. Avoiding tobacco smoke is therefore an important step to take if one wants to prevent or reduce the risk of developing COPD.
- Alcohol – There is also a link between alcohol use and the development of COPD. It is well-established that those who drink alcohol are more likely to develop the disease as well as experience alcohol-induced pneumonia. Furthermore, drinking alcohol has been linked to a faster rate of decline in lung function among people with COPD. This is why it is important to keep alcohol consumption to a minimum if one wants to keep their lungs healthy and functioning properly.
- Inhalers and Bronchodilators – Another thing that can cause or contribute to the development of COPD is the use of inhalers and bronchodilators. These are drugs that allow for more efficient breathing and thus can improve lung function. However, prolonged use of these drugs can cause or contribute to the development of COPD. This may be due to repeated exposure to the drugs over time or it could be because these drugs are highly reactive and alter the lung’s natural defense mechanism, making it more vulnerable to infection.
- ERCP – Endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography is a type of procedure that is used to diagnose and manage certain digestive disorders. During the procedure, a physician inserts a thin tube into the patient’s mouth and esophagus in order to examine and clean out the pancreas and bile ducts. While this is a common and helpful procedure for those who require it, it is not without risks. The most serious of these risks is cholestasis, or the accumulation of bile in the liver. This can lead to liver damage and failure. If ERCP is performed multiple times, the risks of liver damage become more pronounced. This procedure is also uncomfortable for the patient and requires them to be in the hospital for a day.
- Pulmonary Function Testing – Finally, pulmonary function testing is a procedure that is used to assess the effectiveness of a patient’s treatment and to monitor any changes in breathing capability. This procedure entails the patient using various gadgets to measure their breathing, such as spirometers and peak flow meters. It is a common practice among healthcare providers to perform pulmonary function testing on a regular basis, as it provides them with invaluable information about a patient’s progress.
Being at-risk is one thing, but actually developing the disease is another. There is substantial evidence to suggest that those who develop COPD do so over time, typically due to repeated exposure to risk factors. There is also emerging data to suggest that modifiable lifestyle factors, such as tobacco smoke, are more significant contributors to the development of COPD. This means that people with this disease have a higher chance of avoiding complications and dying from the condition if they change their behavior and get preventive treatment.
How Can Digital Patient Engagement Improve COPD?
There is a wealth of evidence that suggests that technology can play an important role in healthcare. This evidence includes the significant role that health communication platforms, such as blogs and websites, can play in improving patient experience and outcomes, as well as lowering healthcare costs. Furthermore, there is also an established body of evidence that suggests that using technology to engage patients can significantly improve their understanding of their conditions and treatments, as well as increase their confidence in taking care of themselves.
For example, a 2016 study from the United Kingdom’s Leeds University found that text message reminders regarding chemotherapy appointments significantly improved patients’ understanding of and satisfaction with their treatment plan. Furthermore, the use of text messages allowed the patients to feel as if they were a part of the healthcare team, providing them with a sense of engagement and empowerment.
What is more, the study also found that patients who received the reminders were more likely to have improved their understanding of their condition and treatment, as well as increased their sense of empowerment, compared to those who did not receive the reminders. These findings demonstrate that technology can play a crucial role in improving the quality of healthcare by enabling better patient understanding and engagement.
The Bottom Line
Being at risk of developing or dying from COPD is one thing, but actually developing the disease is another. While there is no single ‘cause of’ COPD, there are multiple risk factors that have been established as contributors to its development. People with this disease have a higher chance of avoiding complications and dying from the condition if they change their behavior and get preventive treatment. Furthermore, technology can play a significant role in improving patient understanding, engagement, and outcomes, as well as lower healthcare costs.