Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a disease of the lungs characterised by airflow obstruction. This airflow obstruction is usually progressive and only partially reversible. The disease is associated with increasing dyspnoea (breathlessness) and in more severe cases can be associated with exacerbations of the disease, which may require intervention either in primary care, attendance at the hospital or even admission to hospital. It is a significant cause of mortality in Ireland and compared with other European countries, Ireland has one of the highest age standardised death rates from COPD.
In 2016 Ireland was noted as having the highest hospitalisation rates per 100,000 head of population in the OECD in relation to COPD. It is estimated that 380,000 people are living with COPD yet only 110,000 are diagnosed. It is particularly prevalent in the more vulnerable in society including people from areas with high social deprivation.
Tobacco smoking is the most important risk factor for the development of COPD. Tobacco smokers have a higher prevalence of respiratory symptoms, lung function abnormalities and mortality from COPD than non-smokers. However in most studies up to 15% of patients with COPD are non-smokers. Many patients with COPD have been ex-smokers for many years. A view of COPD as a smoker’s disease is not accurate and can act to prevent COPD patients from getting appropriate resourced care.