THURSDAY, Dec. 1 (HealthDay News) -- Americans' awareness of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is rising, but many of those at risk don't talk to their doctor about symptoms, according to a new survey by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Symptoms of COPD -- the third-leading cause of death in the United States -- include shortness of breath, chronic coughing or wheezing, excess sputum production and a feeling of not being able to take a deep breath.
COPD affects 24 million people in the United States, but as many as half of them haven't been diagnosed.
The NHLBI Internet survey of almost 4,200 adults found that 71 percent of respondents said they are aware of COPD, compared with 65 percent in 2008.
Awareness was highest among those most at risk, current and former smokers. Awareness was 78 percent among current smokers and 76 percent among former smokers, compared to 69 percent and 68 percent, respectively, in 2008.
The survey also found that 27 percent of current smokers said they had suffered from a chronic cough or wheezing, or had been too short of breath to do normal activities in the past year. That's more than double the rate in the general population (13 percent).
However, 40 percent of smokers who said they had these COPD symptoms had not discussed them with a doctor or other health care provider.
"COPD is surpassing other diseases as a major killer in this country. We want to reverse this trend by educating people about the symptoms, so they can get proper treatment as early as possible," James Kiley, director of the NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases, said in an institute news release.
"It is not enough to have heard of COPD. Those at risk need to know the signs so they can talk to their health care provider about any breathing problems they are having and, hopefully, find relief," he added.
The American Thoracic Society has more about COPD.
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