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Is there more the health-care system can do for people with advanced COPD?

Jun 12, 2018

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Strategies shown to reduce symptom burden and alleviate suffering for people with advanced Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) are being underutilized in Ontario, suggests a study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

It is estimated that one in four Canadians aged 35 years or older will develop COPD – a disease characterized by increasing breathlessness that, if left unchecked, can make even the most basic everyday tasks unmanageable.

“COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada, and ranked third in the world. But compared to other life-limiting illnesses like cancer, end-of-life strategies that can improve quality of life for people with advanced COPD are being underused,” says Dr. Andrea Gershon, lead author of the study, respirologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and scientist at Sunnybrook Research Institute and the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES).

Between 2004 and 2014, 151,912 Ontarians were in the advanced stages of the disease, which sees severe shortness of breath, chronic cough and psychological symptoms including depression and social isolation.

“There is potentially more the health-care system can offer these people in terms of support and care,” says Dr. Gershon.

The study suggests more people with COPD could benefit from formal palliative care, long-term oxygen therapy and opioids, as recommended by the American and Canadian Thoracic societies.

Dr. Gershon says further work is needed to better understand the gaps in health-care services and the unmet needs of people with COPD.