According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), smoking is the major cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). However, according to a 2011 Danish study, the early symptoms of the disease are difficult for the average person to recognize. Which means it can get worse before it’s confirmed.
The only true way to detect COPD early, according to the study, is through offering a spirometry to adults over 35 years old who have had tobacco/occupational exposure and have at least one respiratory symptom. Respiratory symptoms of COPD include cough, dyspnea (shortness of breath), wheezing, sputum or recurrent respiratory infection.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a spirometry test "assess[es] how well your lungs work by measuring how much air you inhale, how much you exhale and how quickly you exhale.“ The test is used to diagnose diseases that affect breathing and discover whether treatments are working.
The goal of the Danish study was to encourage spirometry as a method of early detection.
The study, which included participants without a previous diagnosis of obstructive lung disease but each had at least one respiratory symptom, were tested with spirometry. More one third of those studied tested positive for airway obstruction and appeared to be in mild to moderate stages of COPD.
Before COPD is in the later stages, treating the disease and quitting smoking can limit the long-term effects, including reducing the risk of death.
"Tobacco smoking is the most important risk factor for COPD in up to 90 percent of patients in Western societies,” the study noted. Anyone who is either a smoker or has occupational exposure and has a respiratory symptom should get tested. Early detection of COPD can help improve treatment and management of the disease.