£1bn could be saved by NHS over next decade if doctors diagnosed chronic lung diseases earlier

Experts say that patients often dismiss their symptoms as 'smoker's cough'

Doctors are failing to make an early diagnosis in 85 per cent of chronic lung diseases, which kill 25,000 people in the UK every year, researchers have found.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is known to affect 900,000 people in the UK, but the numbers could be significantly higher because of under-diagnosis. Experts say that patients often dismiss their symptoms as “smoker’s cough”.

To investigate the scale of under-detection, researchers looked at the care records of 39,000 patients who had been diagnosed with COPD between 1990 and 2009.

They found that in 85 per cent of cases, the patient had visited their GP or a clinic with symptoms which might have indicated COPD, up to five years before an actual diagnosis was made.

Many presented with symptoms, which were not investigated further, even earlier. More than half of the patients showed symptoms 6 to 10 years before a diagnosis, and 42 per cent had shown signs that might have been COPD between 11 to 15 years prior to finally being diagnosed. 

The study, carried out by researchers at the University of Plymouth’s Peninsula School of Medicine and Dentistry, is published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine journal today.

Its author Dr Rupert Jones said that the first signs of lung disease should prompt further tests, including with a spirometer – a machine which measures breathing to determine whether airways are obstructed – but that his was not happening in nearly enough cases.

“The substantial numbers of patients misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed in this study is a cause for concern…” he said. “Both general practitioners and patients are failing to recognise the significance of symptoms.”

COPD is the collective name for a number of lung diseases including bronchitis and emphysema, the chief causes of which are smoking. Symptoms include breathlessness during activity, a persistent cough and regular chest infections. It is important to be diagnosed as early as possible to prevent further damage to the lungs which can lead to serious illness and death. It can usually be treated by quitting smoking, but treatments such as inhalers are also available.

The Department of Health has estimated that £1bn could be saved for the NHS over 10 years if COPD was diagnosed earlier.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

    Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Performance Consultant Trainee

    £22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Consultant trainee opportunit...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - (Full marketing mix) - Knutsford

    £22000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Knu...

    Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

    Day In a Page

    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
    Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

    Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

    A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
    Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

    Election 2015

    Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
    Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

    Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

    The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
    The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

    The US is getting frayed at the edges

    Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
    Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

    New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

    A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
    Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

    Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
    Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

    Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

    Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
    Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

    Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

    He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
    How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

    Celebrating 100 years of Leica

    A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world