Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a serious, progressive condition that mostly strikes individuals who smoke cigarettes. It is a harsh blend of bronchitis and emphysema — and it’s the worst thing to strike your lungs besides cancer. It limits the flow of air, both on inhaling and exhaling, and it’s a leading cause of death and disability across the globe. (About 75% of COPD deaths are caused by smoking.) A recent study tried to gauge the global burden of this condition.
After looking at 60 studies from around the world, researchers deduced as many as 10% of all adults over the age of 40 have lung damage that is consistent with COPD. Where before the figure was thought to be anywhere between four and 10%, the new figure is much more narrow, sitting between nine and 10%. COPD was once thought to be more common in men, older adults, those living in urban areas, and, most significantly, smokers.
The researchers warn in the study, “Unlike many leading causes of death and disability, COPD is projected to increase in much of the world as smoking frequencies rise and the population ages.”
Tying into this piece of research is another discovery, which found that nicotine replacement therapy (NRT, administered as tablets) help COPD patients quit smoking, which is a necessity for survival. This type of therapy, which sends small amounts of nicotine into your bloodstream to curb cravings, has allowed significant numbers of COPD patients to kick the habit that caused the disease.
Believed to be the first study ever to show this link, it found that NRT worked successfully in those individuals who smoked fewer than 10 cigarettes a day. They tested NRT, along with behavioral support, in 370 COPD patients who smoked an average of 20 cigarettes a day.
While the behavioral support didn’t factor in too much, the use of tablets (placed under your tongue) was linked to a doubling of smoking cessation rates at six months and then again at one year. Those who kicked the habit had an immediate increase in lung function, which brought them to a “stable” situation. Those who continued smoking had lungs that continued to deteriorate. The results are pretty clear: if COPD patients want to live well into the future, they must quit smoking for good. NRT is one effective way to do so.