Early diagnosis of COPD through DLCO
In 2010, nearly $50 billion were spent in the United States in the fight against, and treatment of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Today, COPD impacts the daily lives of nearly 26 million patients, with an estimated 50 percent being diagnosed. Even worse, COPD is now the fourth leading cause of death in the USA.
But COPD is not limited to the United States. Globally it's even more prevalent. The Global Burden of Disease Study reports a prevalence of 251 million cases of COPD as of 2016. While tobacco use and exposure to chemicals are leading risk factors, they are not the only source of this debilitating respiratory disease.
As is the case with any chronic medical condition, early diagnosis of COPD is a critical first step that helps to improve patient care, mitigate sources of exposure, start treatment earlier, and possibly reduce the expansion of the disease.
Early diagnosis of COPD is possible – with the use of new technology infused into pulmonary function testing or PFT equipment, capable of completing full lung function testing that is more robust, accurate, easier to use, and portable. The EasyOne line of PFT devices provides medical professionals with a potent tool that can help diagnose patients earlier, monitor progress, and adjust treatment.
Let's explore some of the challenges in diagnosing respiratory diseases. In the information below, we'll outline the root causes of many pulmonary diseases, the risk of leaving patients undiagnosed and untreated, and how pulmonary function testing – specifically measuring the diffusing capacity of the lung for carbon monoxide or DLCO has quickly become the best early marker for COPD diagnosis.
What causes Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease?
The human respiratory system is amazingly efficient. However, over time, exposure to contaminants, irritants, and chemicals can cause damage to the lungs and airways. This creates an obstruction in the lungs, which is diagnosed as emphysema and chronic bronchitis – the two leading diseases which fall underneath the COPD umbrella. Pulmonary fibrosis is also a respiratory disease. It used to be included within the COPD umbrella but now stands alone.
However, exposure is not the only cause of COPD. It's estimated that three percent of all COPD cases are caused by those with a genetic condition known as Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.
Generally, the root source of the COPD diagnosis includes the following:
Smoking: Nearly 90 percent of all COPD cases can be traced to direct or indirect inhalation of cigarette smoke. Consumer-packaged cigarettes are filled with more than 7,000 chemicals, many of which are extremely harmful when inhaled – either by the smoker or through second-hand. These toxins weaken the lung's natural defense against infection, cause swelling in air tubes, destroy air sacs, and narrow air passages.
Environment: The air quality of your home, car, and work environment can also play a crucial role in obstructing the respiratory system. Frequent exposure to air pollution, chemicals, fumes, dust, contaminants, and irritants are also sources of obstructive respiratory diseases.
What are the risk factors for COPD?
While exposure to cigarette smoke and poor air quality are primary contributing risk factors that can cause COPD, they are not the sole sources. It's estimated that 30% of currently diagnosed COPD patients have never smoked more than a pack or 30 cigarettes during their life.
Those with a family history of COPD are also candidates for possibly developing the disease, as are children who have experienced significant respiratory infections in the past. Most patients who are diagnosed with COPD are above the age of 40 when initial symptoms develop. There are also several comorbidity factors including pulmonary disease, obesity, and diabetes that can also contribute to the onset of COPD.
What happens if a patient is not diagnosed or treated?
One of the major misconceptions about the human respiratory system is that difficulty breathing is age-related. It's assumed by many patients that if they are older or perhaps, out of shape, difficulty breathing while climbing stairs is linked directly to these factors.
That's not entirely accurate.
The lungs are powerful, and like muscles, the more they are exercised, the stronger and more efficiently they perform. We exercise our lungs through normal respiratory function. Obstructive lung diseases are progressive. If a patient is not diagnosed, the root source of the obstruction can't be determined, and prolonged exposure to contributing factors will cause the obstruction to worsen.
As the lungs lose their ability to inhale, exhale, or expel carbon dioxide – the health of other organs can likewise suffer. Many COPD patients also live with cardiovascular disease, and it's the failure of the heart, kidneys, liver, and other organs that are often the cause of death.
While there is no current cure or way to reverse the damage caused in COPD, early diagnosis and proper treatment can stop the progression. This not only improves the patients' quality of life but can save millions of dollars in unnecessary healthcare expenses.
The challenges in diagnosing COPD
Arguably the biggest challenge in diagnosing COPD is a lack of readily available and easy to operate equipment that can diagnose the disease. But there is also a misunderstanding of the impact that comorbidities (such as cardiac diseases, obesity, or diabetes) have on masking COPD-specific symptoms.
In years past, the only equipment capable of accurately diagnosing COPD was a body box often located in a PFT lab. These devices require constant calibration, are extremely delicate, and can only be operated by highly trained medical professionals.
Additionally, this type of testing is often recommended by primary care physicians when significant symptoms are determined. By this time, the patient is likely in a later stage of COPD – where mitigation or treatment options are reduced.
How pulmonary function testing through EasyOne® Pro devices provides a solution
Without question – the most accurate and effective way to assess lung health is through a pulmonary function test or PFT. This testing methodology is intended to measure complete lung volumes – including the volume of air inhaled and exhaled, the functional residual volume (FRC), and total lung capacity (TLC). Another critical component of a full PFT exam is measuring the diffusion capacity of carbon monoxide or DLCO testing. DLCO is also called the transfer factor, which refers to the lung's ability to transfer gas from inspired air to the bloodstream.
A recent paper – with data completed during the COPDGene Study and published in the CHEST Journal, concluded that reduced DLCO is linked with increased COPD-related symptoms. When measured during an exam – DLCO provides a gateway to quicker diagnosis of a pulmonary disease like COPD.
The EasyOne® Pro line of PFT solutions
The EasyOne Pro® and EasyOne Pro® LAB have been designed for seamless operation in the average medical office. Infused with NDD's patented TrueFlow™ and TrueCheck™ technology, these portable PFT devices are more reliable, easier to use, produce robust and accurate results, and do not come with the operational restrictions of older PFT devices.
Beyond the ease of use, precision engineering, and robust testing results, the EasyOne® line of complete PFT and spirometry testing equipment is backed by an exceptional support and coaching team. Our team is dedicated to improving user experience, providing valuable training and education resources, and helping users get the most out of their investments.
With an estimated 13 million people living with COPD in the United States that have gone undiagnosed, the need for easy to use PFT devices in medical offices across the country has never been higher. The EasyOne Pro and EasyOne Pro LAB provide this flexibility – and are the only devices proven to be accurate for a lifetime of DLCO measurements.
If you'd like to learn more about EasyOne Pro and EasyOne Pro LAB PFT devices, click the links below.