The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP), with Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, recently released online resource material for physicians and patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and asthma.
The physician resource document, “COPD and Asthma: Differential Diagnosis,” clearly defines the two conditions while “COPD and Asthma: What You Need to Know“ outlines symptoms of each condition and clarifies therapeutic options.
COPD and asthma are two chronic respiratory diseases that induce inflammation of lung airways, making breathing difficult. Because of many similarities between the symptoms of both diseases, physicians can have difficulties distinguishing between the two serious conditions.
In the United States, about 12.7 million are diagnosed with COPD and 22.5 million with asthma. Because the diseases lead to multiple hospitalizations, frequent emergency room visits, and constant medical expenses, AAFP considers COPD and asthma top priorities.
“The number of people who get ill and (are) hospitalized makes this a big public health priority, especially in disadvantaged populations,” said Dr. Clare Hawkins lead physician for Aspire Health in Houston, in a press release.
Hawkins, who helped develop the new literature, said doctors do good work by helping patients with respiratory illness, but that “digging a little deeper” to identify symptoms and severity is worth knowing more and asking more questions.
“Patients will assume that their breathing disorder is from asthma, when it may really be from COPD. Physicians might think of a series of upper respiratory infections as viral infections instead of underlying asthma or COPD,” Hawkins said.
Helpful tips to differentiate the diagnosis of COPD and asthma, despite similar symptoms, are included in the physicians document.
“We’re asking doctors not to ask, ‘Do you ever get short of breath’?” said Dr. Hawkins. “(They) should ask: ‘Are you able to do the activities you were doing last year or the year before? Are you able to do the activities your friends are doing’?”
The accurate diagnosis of each condition is crucial to prescribe correct therapies and reduce flareups. COPD reacts better to bronchodilators or combination treatments; flareups are managed by bronchodilators, steroids, and or antibiotics. Asthma responds better to short-acting beta-agonists; persistent asthma and exacerbations are controlled by inhaled corticosteroids.
Because smoking exacerbates both conditions, patients should be advised to quit and then helped through cessation.
“Family physicians are very effective at helping their patients quit, but it often takes repeated, caring messages delivered over time,” Hawkins said.
Paper copies of the documents were mailed to AAFP members and internal medicine physicians in states with the highest number of people with COPD: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and West Virginia.