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A quarter of smokers likely to develop COPD - study



FIGURES released today [1] estimate that over 93,000 people in the North East are suffering from a disease which can leave sufferers fighting for breath and is mostly caused by smoking. 

Fresh's 'Every Breath' campaign is raising awareness of smoking and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is being supported by Sting and the British Lung Foundation.

COPD is the UK's fifth biggest killer, is mainly caused by smoking and feeling breathless is an early sign. Sufferers can end up feeling like they are suffocating and one major study even suggests at least 1 in 4 smokers will develop clinically significant COPD [2].

The North East is one of the hardest hit regions with an estimated 93,277 people living with the condition. In Newcastle and Gateshead, figures suggest around 19,066 people are living with COPD, while another 8302 are estimated to have the condition in North Tyneside and another 6552 people in South Tyneside.

The North East also has the highest hospital admission rates from COPD with around 8,729 people admitted in 2011.

COPD is an umbrella term to describe a number of lung conditions including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. With emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs are gradually destroyed with every cigarette so people have difficulty absorbing enough oxygen. The bronchi become floppy and narrow so that it becomes harder to breathe in and out.

Smoking is the single biggest cause of the condition, responsible for around 80% of cases with every cigarette smoked causing further damage. There are varying levels of severity but once the damage is done, it is irreversible. Quitting smoking is the one clear way to reduce your risk.

Ailsa Rutter, Director of Fresh, said: "COPD is a disease that too many smokers are not aware of until they are diagnosed, but research suggests that more than a quarter of smokers will develop it.

"Those figures are truly alarming, especially when so many people who smoke do suffer from early warning signs like feeling short of breath but dismiss them as a "normal" part of smoking. Not being able to breathe properly is something nobody wants to happen to them.

"When we ran this campaign in 2011 thousands of people quit as a result which is why we are running it again - it is never too late to quit smoking and it is the best way to reduce the risk."

Dad-of-one Colin Docherty, 57, from Sunderland, smoked for many years before deciding to quit 11 years ago following a plea from his daughter Elizabeth, now 18, to stop. He didn't know much about COPD but had been living with the symptoms of the condition for years before he was diagnosed 6 years ago.

He said: "People don't think about the years of living with COPD, it's a slow and horrible condition. It's not the dying that's the bad part, it's what you have to go through when you have it. It's the suffering and that's much worse.

"My symptoms started with a cough, a lot of mucus, and I was struggling for breath. It crept up on me over the years, I just wish I had known about this 20 years ago.

"The damage is done now. It's too late for me. I will never get better. I wish I could go back and stop sooner."

His daughter Elizabeth added: "He has always been breathless for as long as I can remember. Whenever he came to pick me up we had to stop every few minutes and he would be struggling for breath. We used to have a season ticket for Sunderland but we had to stop that because he just couldn't get up the stairs."

Dr Chris Stenton, Consultant Physician at The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Smoking is the biggest cause of COPD and every cigarette smoked is damaging the lungs further.

"COPD can also make everyday activities such as walking upstairs, shopping or doing housework difficult. It is vital anyone with the early warning signs of feeling out of breath quits before they get to that stage."

Dr Robert Allcock, at Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: "Suffering from COPD is one of the most common reasons for being admitted to hospital as an emergency. Difficulty with breathing is intensely frightening, yet people with COPD live with breathlessness every day.


"Many are too breathless to enjoy life to the full, and many are housebound. COPD affects millions of people, but for most they suffer in isolation.

"Most COPD is caused by smoking, and stopping smoking halts progress of the disease. The only clear way towards avoiding getting COPD is to stop smoking."

An estimated 1.2 million people in the UK are living with diagnosed COPD. However, the British Lung Foundation estimates millions more people in the UK may be living with COPD and experiencing symptoms without being diagnosed.

Dr Penny Woods, Chief executive, British Lung Foundation said: "Any campaign that raises awareness of lung conditions and the steps people can take to prevent them is welcome. We know that smoking is a key factor in developing lung disease, especially COPD and lung cancer.


"Giving up smoking with the help of NHS quit smoking services is a great first step in preventing further lung damage, it's never too late!"

Anyone who feels breathless doing everyday tasks should consider taking the BLF's online breath test to see if they need to see a doctor.

The study suggesting 1 in 4 smokers will develop COPD was published in Thorax - the official journal of the British Thoracic Society. It studied over 8000 people in Denmark over a 25 year period. It found 25% of the smokers without any initial symptoms of the disease developed "clinically significant" COPD, while up to 40% had some signs of the condition.

Every Breath will run for five weeks and will be supported by hard-hitting TV advertising backed by musician Sting, and an online breathing exercise where people can experience what it feels like to suffer from COPD.

Sting, who is originally from the North East, said: "Many people across the UK are affected by lung damage and other smoking related illnesses, particularly in the North East where I grew up. I'm pleased to support a programme which works towards giving people the motivation and support they need to quit."

For further information and support on quitting, ask your GP or pharmacist or visit





1 - Inhale - INteractive Health Atlas of Lung conditions in England, Public Health England, latest figures by CCG area

2- Developing COPD: a 25 year follow up study of the general population