Lung disease team warn of new risks
AS many as one in nine young adults in industrialised countries are at risk of developing chronic lung disease, research claimed today.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), where airflow to the lungs gradually deteriorates, is mainly caused by smoking but is also linked to exposure to fumes and dust and respiratory infections in childhood.
Researchers from the University of Verona assessed the health of 18,000 adults aged 20 to 44 from 16 countries to see how many were at risk of developing COPD.
The team used new criteria set by the Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD), ranging from 0 to IV increasing with stages of severity.
The 0 stage indicates the "at risk" category - someone with a persistent cough and phlegm for up to three months a year but who does not yet have an obstructed airflow.
The team, led by Professor Roberto de Marco, found almost 12% of the participants fell into this category, with large differences between countries.
The UK had 9.8% in the "at risk" group, compared to a high of 24% in Spain and a low of 7% in Australia.
Overall, there were almost 4% who had varying stages of COPD (stages I-III), ranging from less than 1% at stage I in Iceland to 7.4% in Switzerland.
The researchers said those with stages 0 to III were more likely to be moderate to heavy smokers, to have been exposed to high levels of noxious fumes or dust at work and be poorer than those with healthy lungs.
They also tended to be more heavy users of health care services.
The team concluded: "COPD is an important health problem even in young adults, both because of the high prevalence of the disease and the frequent use of healthcare resources."
They said it looked like the beginning of COPD developed at a much earlier age than was usually believed.
Dr Richard Russell, of the British Thoracic Society, said COPD was the only cause of death on the increase in the UK and was increasing in young people but was being ignored by health policy makers.