SOURCE: Ontario Lung Association

Ontario Lung Association

November 19, 2013 10:53 ET

COPD Numbers Continue to Rise: An Ominous Sign for Province's Health System

New Statistics Show 23 pc of Over-65s Are Affected 

TORONTO, ON--(Marketwired - November 19, 2013) -

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New Ontario health statistics released today show that the number of people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is still increasing. In 2011, one in nine Ontarians over the age of 35 -- 842,376 people -- had been diagnosed with COPD, up more than 11 per cent on the 2008 figure of 756,822. Among people 65 years and older in 2011, more than one in five (22.6 per cent) had COPD.

COPD is one of the province's deadliest, costliest and most prevalent chronic diseases. It is a progressive lung disease characterized by shortness of breath, cough and sputum production. As the disease progresses, shortness of breath limits activity and reduces quality of life. The gradual advance of the disease is associated with more frequent exacerbations, further reductions in airflow and premature death.

The new COPD figures are part of an analysis of Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care data conducted by Dr. Andrea Gershon and her team at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES). Her analysis shows that between 2008 and 2011, there were more than 85,000 new cases of COPD and about 33,000 deaths each year.

"We have been observing annual increases in the prevalence of COPD for a number of years," said Dr. Gershon, a scientist and respirologist at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, "and they are not just due to the aging of the population."

And respiratory health experts agree that the actual prevalence of COPD in Ontario is probably far higher than the official figures indicate. "COPD is underdiagnosed because in the early stages people are unaware that their airflow is reduced," said Dr. Anna Day, a respirologist at Women's College Hospital in Toronto and an authority on the diagnosis and treatment of COPD.

The President and CEO of the Ontario Lung Association, George Habib, said that the rising trend revealed in the official figures sends a clear signal that COPD could start to overwhelm our health-care system. 

"COPD patients are heavy users of the system," said Habib. "They have more emergency room visits, much higher readmission rates than people with other diseases and among the longest, and therefore most costly, hospital stays of any illness.

"Our previous modeling indicated that the direct cost to the health-care system is going to escalate from $3.3 billion in 2011 to more than $172 billion in 2041," he said. "The latest figures would suggest that this projection is very conservative."

Dr. Day said that a simple breathing test called spirometry administered to at-risk individuals -- smokers and former smokers over age 40 -- could have a significant impact on the trajectory of COPD.

"Spirometry is particularly important in diagnosing COPD in the early, or mild, stage when the various treatment options are most effective," she said. "Diagnosing patients earlier and more accurately not only eases their burden significantly, it will also reduce the burden COPD is placing on our overstretched health-care system."

Early screening and diagnosis is one of several evidence-based interventions that the Ontario Lung Association says is essential to reduce the health and economic burden of lung disease. A comprehensive lung health action plan for the province would prevent lung disease, improve patient outcomes and save health-care dollars.

Note to Editors: Dr. Andrea Gershon, Dr. Anna Day and George Habib are available for interview. We can also arrange interviews with patients who can describe what it is like to live with COPD.

About the Ontario Lung Association
The Ontario Lung Association is a registered charity that assists, educates and empowers individuals living with or caring for others with lung disease. The Lung Association provides programs and services to patients and health-care providers, invests in lung research and campaigns for improved policies on lung health.

Contact Information

  • John Chenery
    Ontario Lung Association
    416-864-9911 ext. 292
    Cell: 647-293-9911
    jchenery@on.lung.ca