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See your GP if you are breathless, patients urged

Millions may be missing out on vital COPD treatment, says the British Lung Foundation

Caroline White

Monday, 17 June 2019

People who quickly get out of breath keeping pace with their peers should see their GP for a check-up, rather than accept it as a normal part of ageing as they might have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), says charity, the British Lung Foundation (BLF) today.

An estimated two million Britons may have undiagnosed COPD and are therefore missing out on vital medical care, says the BLF.

The BLF’s online breath test assesses which activities cause breathlessness. Analysis of 350,000 responses to the test between January 2016 and April 2018 revealed that one in five respondents said their lives were significantly limited by breathlessness. More than half a million people have taken the test since its launch in 2016. 

Most of those who took the test said they were worried about their breathing, but a quarter of respondents hadn’t consulted a doctor.

The test comprises 10 questions including physical activity, smoking and the Medical Research Council’s breathlessness scale which allows doctors to assign a severity score to a person’s level of breathlessness. 

Dr Nick Hopkinson, the BLF’s medical director, commented: “Getting out of breath during normal activities is not a normal part of ageing, it requires an explanation.  

Breathlessness can be due to lack of fitness or being overweight, but it may also be a sign someone has a lung or heart problem. 

“It’s worrying many people are not getting the necessary checks to find this out.  

It’s clear much more needs to be done to get people to take breathlessness seriously as a symptom, so people can get treatment at the earliest possible opportunity.”

The BLF believes the findings show NHS England must place a greater priority on early diagnosis for lung disease. 

Dr Penny Woods, chief executive of the BLF, said: “Severe breathlessness, in medical terms, means a person having to walk slower than friends of the same age or having to stop for breath when walking at their own pace.

“People should not be waiting until their breathlessness leaves them unable to leave the house or get dressed before seeking medical advice. Delays in diagnosis mean valuable time is lost treating people, which diminishes quality of life.

“That’s why we want GPs to be supported to identify cases who may be at risk of COPD, such as those with a history of smoking, asthma or bronchitis, and those with frequent chest infections.” 

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