New test developed by top expert at UK will lead to earlier diagnosis of COPD, in which Kentucky leads the nation

A University of Kentucky professor helped develop a new tool to diagnose chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is often diagnosed late and is more prevalent in Kentucky than anywhere else in the nation, Laura Joszt reports for The American Journal of Managed Care.

“Undiagnosed and untreated COPD can lead to detriments in quality of life, and basically people start doing less because they have difficulty breathing,” said Dr. David Mannino, professor of medicine at UK’s College of Public Health. “Many people attribute this difficulty of breathing to just getting older when, in fact, they may have a disease that is potentially treatable.” Mannino is recognized as the top U.S. expert on COPD, according to a UK news release.

COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease that causes obstructed airflow from the lungs. It includes diseases like emphysema, chronic bronchitis and asthma. It is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Kentucky has the highest COPD rate in the nation, 9.3 percent of its population.

Likely causes of that are Kentucky’s high smoking rate (26.5 percent); its high level of poverty, which often limits access to medical care; and its high rate of agriculture and mining jobs, which expose workers to dust and other irritants that can lead to COPD, Maren Auxier writes for the Lung Institute.

“Smoking is the number-one risk factor for COPD. If you look at a map of cigarette smoking, it will match very tightly with a map of COPD,” Mannino writes. Several studies, including one by UK researchers, have found that there are fewer COPD hospitalizations in places with comprehensive bans on smoking in workplaces.

On top of all that, at least one-third of Americans get a late-stage diagnosis, which decreases the possibility of an intervention,” Joszt reports.

The new five-step diagnostic tool developed by Mannino at UK combines a five-question “yes” or “no” questionnaire that asks about the patient’s lifestyle with two common non-invasive methods for diagnosing COPD: a peak-flow examination and spirometry. Previous screening methods to diagnose COPD relied on the patient’s smoking history, cough and sputum.

Mannino said at a recent European Respiratory Society meeting that a study has found that his new tool to be the most effective diagnostic approach, and UK will now test the effectiveness of the tool among different populations.

“Not only could the tool help health providers diagnose COPD in mere seconds, but it could help patients find out if they suffer from COPD symptoms before a visit with the doctor,” Joszt writes.
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