With a prevalence of around 5.4% in Portugal and a mortality rate of about 8.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease is among the main causes of death in the country.
More than 70% of Portuguese respondents in a study on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) have never heard of the disease and those who know about it have a wrong perception of its severity.
Speaking to the Lusa agency, the president of the Portuguese Society of Pulmonology (SPP), António Morais, confesses that the results were a surprise, mainly due to the size.
“Effectively, I think that when you see that more than 70% of the population does not know exactly what a disease is that is one of the main causes of mortality, this is strange and surprising”, said the specialist, stressing that there were already previous signs of this lack of knowledge.
The study, which will be presented this Friday at a conference at the SPP headquarters in Lisbon, indicates that, even in the subgroup of smokers – the population at greatest risk of developing COPD – there is a great lack of knowledge about the disease, risk factors, symptoms, method of diagnosis and impact on quality of life and mortality.
António Morais argues that the relationship between primary health care “can and should improve a lot” and underlines the already known difficulties in accessing health centres.
“There is still an important number of individuals who do not have direct access because they do not have a family doctor assigned”, recalls the specialist, stressing that the lack of user literacy has a lot to do with “other premises”.
“For example, if, in fact, colleagues who are in primary health care are sensitized, what diseases are they sensitized to (…) and also by the signs that the guardianship gives”, he says.
It points out the objectives outlined by the tutelage for General and Family Medicine doctors regarding diabetes and arterial hypertension, for example, remembering that “this does not happen in relation to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease”.
The pulmonologist recalls that in order to diagnose this disease it is necessary for the user to undergo a spirometry (exam that assesses respiratory function) and underlines: “A ridiculous thing happens that is in most diagnoses of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease that occur in Medicine General and Family Patients do not have spirometry. This happens because effectively there is a difficulty in accessing exactly this exam”.
COPD is among the leading causes of death in the country
With a prevalence of around 5.4% in Portugal and a mortality rate of around 8.7 per 100,000 inhabitants, COPD is among the main causes of death in the country.
Data from the study, collected between June 15 and July 17, 2022, indicate that tobacco users associate, for example, smoking with the development of oncological, cardio and cerebrovascular disease, but many reveal that they have never heard of COPD.
About one in three respondents claim to know or have heard about the disease, but when asked what COPD is, only 27.5% correctly recognized this condition.
The perceived severity of the disease by the surveyed population does not correspond to reality, since 8% of respondents consider that COPD does not cause death.
The study, developed by Spirituc Investigation Applied, also indicates that just over half of those who know about COPD know that spirometry is essential to be able to identify this disease.
Computed tomography (CAT) and Lung X-ray (55.8% and 53.9% respectively) were the response options most mentioned by respondents as the main tests to diagnose COPD.
Regarding the diseases most associated with smoking, lung cancer is the most mentioned, with almost 90% of references. More than three out of four (78.7%) of respondents associate tobacco consumption with the onset of COPD and the third most associated pathology is throat cancer.
Digital media play a key role as a source of knowledge about the disease, having been mentioned by almost 40% of respondents as the way in which they learned about COPD.
According to the study, despite his “privileged position” among the population, the family doctor “seems to have a role that falls short of what would be desirable”, with only 21.6% of respondents referring to him as the source to whom use to gain knowledge about the disease.
Data from the National Observatory of Respiratory Diseases released at the end of last year indicate that, in 2018, COPD was responsible for 2,834 deaths in Portugal, which is equivalent to eight deaths per day.
The latest data from the National Institute of Statistics on causes of death in 2020 reveal that respiratory diseases (excluding covid-19) caused 11,266 deaths.