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A faulty production line

1 in 10 young adults has early COPD

By Rob Finch

One in 10 young adults in the UK has early symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmon-ary disease, reveals a major international study.

GP experts and respiratory specialists expressed shock at the finding and called for improved GP facilities to detect COPD.

They urged GPs to increase their awareness of early symptoms and target affected patients for smoking cessation advice.

The researchers assessed the prevalence of COPD symptoms among 1,198 UK adults aged 20 to 44 against new globally agreed GOLD staging criteria. They found 9.8 per cent showed early signs that put them at high risk of disease progression (see box). Results were published in Thorax (February).

Dr David Bellamy, a GP in Bournemouth and a member of the British Thoracic Society COPD guideline development group, said: 'The figures worry me ­ it's a much higher proportion than I would imagine in the younger age group.'

He said those with stage 0 symptoms would not necessarily develop more severe COPD, particularly if they could be persuaded to give up smoking. But he added: 'At the moment GPs don't have the money, facilities or time to screen these people.'

The study prompted the British Thoracic Society to issue a statement demanding more funds to train and equip GPs. Society spokesman Dr Richard Russell, consultant chest physician at Wexham Park Hospital in Slough, said: 'Only six in 10 GPs have access to spirometers. Lack of NHS investment is jeopardising chances to help patients.'

Prevalence of COPD in people aged 20-44

Stage 0 (at risk) ­ 9.8%

Chronic symptoms (cough and/or phlegm from the chest, usually in winter and on most days for as long as three months each year) and FEV1/FVC = 70%

Stage l (mild) ­ 2.3%

FEV1/FVC <70% and="" fev1="80%">

Stage II (moderate)/Stage III (severe) ­ 1%

FEV1/FVC <70% and="" fev1="" 50-80%="" predicted="" (stage="" ii)="" or="" 30-50%="" predicted="" (stage="">

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