News Release

Thursday, January 18, 2007

NIH Launches New Campaign Aimed at Increasing Awareness, Early Diagnosis and Treatment for COPD

Communications Effort Augments NHLBI’s Investment in COPD Research.

WASHINGTON, DC — The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, in partnership with leading professional societies, health, and advocacy organizations today launches COPD Learn More Breathe Better, a national campaign designed to improve awareness among those at greatest risk for the disease.

COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a growing epidemic, the fourth leading cause of U.S. deaths, affecting one in four Americans over the age of 45. More than 12 million people are currently diagnosed with COPD, and it is estimated that another 12 million may have it, but remain undiagnosed, despite recognizable symptoms and treatments that can control symptoms and prolong life.

“Many people with early signs of COPD simply avoid activities they used to enjoy because they become short of breath more easily. We want people to know that those symptoms have a name — COPD — that diagnosis is easy, requiring only a simple breathing test in your doctor’s office, and that treatment can help,” said Elizabeth G. Nabel, M.D., NHLBI director.

In COPD, the airways that carry air in and out of the lungs become partially blocked, making it difficult to breathe. COPD develops slowly and can worsen over time. COPD is often characterized by shortness of breath. Other symptoms include constant coughing, sometimes called “smoker’s cough,” excess sputum production, and wheezing. COPD is sometimes referred to as emphysema or chronic bronchitis.

People over age 45 with a history of smoking are at risk for COPD. In addition to smoking, other environmental exposures like pollutants or secondhand smoke can contribute to the disease. In addition, as many as 100,000 people in the U.S. may have a genetic deficiency, called alpha-1 antitrypsin, which raises their risk for COPD.

“Millions of people have heeded the health community’s call to quit smoking, however they remain at risk for COPD. As health care providers, we need to do our part to ensure that if they have COPD, we diagnose it early,” said Rick Kellerman, MD, president of the American Academy of Family Physicians, a campaign partner.

“Family physicians play an important role in COPD awareness and diagnosis. We currently are the usual source of care for more than 60 percent of Americans with COPD,” said Kellerman.

A COPD diagnosis is confirmed with spirometry, a simple, non-invasive breathing test that measures the amount of air a person exhales and how fast he or she can exhale it. Results of the test can help the doctor evaluate current lung function.

COPD treatments control symptoms, improve exercise capacity, and can prolong life. Advances in the treatment of nicotine addiction have led to greater success in smoking cessation — a critical intervention in COPD. Other treatments include inhaled bronchodilators, inhaled corticosteroids, and pulmonary rehabilitation, all of which have been shown to improve the quality of life of patients with COPD. Oxygen therapy for those with severe COPD prolongs life.

In decades past, COPD was predominantly a disease of older men. Now, the disease affects men and women equally, with more women now dying of COPD each year than men. COPD also costs the U.S. economy an estimated $32.7 billion per year in healthcare expenditures and indirect costs of morbidity and mortality.

NHLBI is joined by more than 20 partners in implementing this new campaign. Among them, The American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Lung Association, the American Thoracic Society, the American College of Chest Physicians, and the U.S. COPD Coalition will promote the campaign to their constituencies. Kaiser Permanente has stepped forward to help spread the word about COPD and plans to distribute campaign information to its members, physicians, and staff. Through a partnership with the COPD Foundation, the campaign will tour health fairs, senior expos and other community venues throughout the country in 2007, offering information and spirometry screening to those at risk.

The campaign, which will roll out throughout 2007, includes targeted print and radio public service announcements (PSAs). The PSAs are supplemented by fact sheets for patients and those at risk, a fact card for health care professionals, a website, an educational video, and materials to help community-level organizations further educate the public about the signs and symptoms of COPD.

The public awareness effort complements a large ongoing NHLBI investment in COPD research. This month, the NHLBI awarded a total of $41 million in grants for three new Specialized Centers for Clinically Orientated Research (SCCOR) in COPD. These centers will conduct basic and clinical research over the next five years to better understand the molecular, cellular and genetic determinants of COPD. That information is critical for developing better methods of diagnosing and treating COPD. The three SCCOR programs in COPD are located at Weill Medical College of Cornell University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Washington University in St. Louis.

Special note for broadcast media: B-roll footage of the spirometry test, family physician, patients and campaign spokespeople is available.

For more information on COPD and the Learn More Breathe Better campaign please visit: or

To request an interview about the Learn More Breathe Better campaign, please contact:
NHLBI press office at (301) 496-4236 or

To speak to the researchers receiving SCCOR grants, please contact:
Weill Cornell: Jonathan Weil, (212) 821-0560; Washington University: Gwen Ericson, (314) 286-0141, or University of Pittsburgh: Michele Baum, (412) 647-3555.

NHLBI COPD Learn More Campaign partners include:

  • Alpha-1 Association
  • Alpha-1 Foundation
  • American Academy of Family Physicians
  • American Association for Respiratory Care
  • American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation
  • American College of Chest Physicians
  • American College of Physicians
  • American Lung Association
  • American Thoracic Society
  • Asthma/Emphysema Self-Help Group
  • COPD Alert
  • COPD Foundation
  • EFFORTS Global Initiative for COPD (GOLD)
  • Kaiser Permanente
  • National Emphysema/COPD Association National Jewish Medical and Research Center
  • National Lung Health Education Program
  • Pulmonary Education and Research Foundation (PERF)
  • SPRY Foundation US COPD Coalition

Part of the National Institutes of Health, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) plans, conducts, and supports research related to the causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of heart, blood vessel, lung, and blood diseases; and sleep disorders. The Institute also administers national health education campaigns on women and heart disease, healthy weight for children, and other topics. NHLBI press releases and other materials are available online at:

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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