Number of COPD patients by 2050 predicted to hit nearly 600M
Cases of lung disease expected to increase by 23% globally in next 3 decades
The number of people worldwide with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is predicted to increase by 23% in three decades, amounting to nearly 600 million patients by 2050, according to a new study.
The largest increase, by nearly 50%, is projected to be among women and people living in low- and middle-income countries.
Indeed, the number of COPD patients in such countries is expected to be more than double that of high-income nations by the half-century mark.
“These numbers are a clear warning that we need to inspire immediate action across industries and geographies to lower the risk factors for COPD while also increasing awareness of the symptoms,” Carlos Nunez, MD, chief medical officer of ResMed, the company funding the study, said in a press release. A U.S. company, ResMed offers ventilation solutions for COPD patients.
The study, “Global Burden of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Through 2050,” was published in JAMA Network Open.
Many new COPD patients likely to be women, from lower-income countries
COPD is a lung disease that causes permanent damage to the airways and air sacs, making it hard to breathe. The disease develops over many years and is usually caused by cigarette smoking or prolonged exposure to air pollution.
The symptoms of COPD include shortness of breath, wheezing, and persistent cough with mucus. Medications and non-pharmacological treatment such as noninvasive ventilation can help to control symptoms and slow disease progression.
“When you can’t breathe, it’s the scariest thing ever,” said Lisa Hall, who eight years ago was diagnosed with COPD. Hall uses ResMed’s solutions to help with her breathing.
“While I know I will always be a little out of breath every day, it’s not as bad as it would be if I weren’t on therapy today,” Hall said, adding that she’s now able to take her grandchildren on outings to the park.
Coming up with as-accurate-as possible long-term projections of how many people are expected to have COPD worldwide in the years to come is important to better plan needed resources, according to the researchers. Such projections, they noted, also can help inform effective treatment programs.
“It is imperative to understand epidemiologic trends [distribution patterns through time, place, and person] to target and prioritize prevention efforts by region and at-risk group,” the researchers wrote.
To provide an estimate of the regional and global burden of COPD from 2020 through 2050, researchers at ResMed, along with colleagues, drew on published data about the disease’s frequency in people ages 25 and older, while accounting for projections of known COPD risk factors.
Smoking prevalence, indoor and outdoor air pollution, and development indices were used as risk factors.
In 2020, the global frequency of COPD was estimated to be 10.6%, corresponding to 480 million people. The number of people with COPD was projected to increase to a total of 592 million by 2050, a relative increase of 23.3% from 2020.
“Due to current trends, including a growing and aging population, COPD will continue to be a large burden worldwide, with a relative increase of 23% in the number of cases of COPD, approaching 600 million,” the researchers wrote.
Expected rise in COPD cases linked to smoking, household air pollution
The team noted that “this increase was estimated to be largely driven by an increasing burden of COPD among females and within LMICs [low- and middle-income countries].”
The number of women with COPD was projected to increase from 177 million in 2020 to 260 million by 2050, translating into an increase of 47.1%. Among men, the projected increase was about five times lower, by 9.4%.
“The disproportionate growth of COPD among women is a critical finding as COPD has not always been as prevalent in women,” Nunez said.
The researchers noted that, while the global COPD frequency will remain higher in men than women through 2050 (10.6% vs. 8.3%), “increasing trends in prevalence among females will begin to approach that of males, driven by increases in LMICs.”
For low- and middle-income countries, the forecast was a 32.7% increase from 2020 to 2050, toward 426 million people with COPD. The number of COPD patients in low- and middle-income countries “appear to be growing at a much more rapid pace” than in high-income countries, the team wrote, where the projected increase is by 3.8%, to 166 million cases.
As a healthcare community we have a responsibility to be more vigilant in screening, testing, and proactively providing COPD education to female patients as well as communities that may not have easy access to this information.
The rise of COPD among women and in low- and middle-income countries has been attributed to increases in smoking habits and exposure to household air pollution “during cooking in poorly ventilated homes,” the researchers wrote.
In addition, while North America was the region with the highest COPD prevalence in 2020 (16.8%), “sub-Saharan Africa was projected to become the most prevalent region [(15.1%)], translating into 160 million cases,” the team wrote.
“Our findings suggest that COPD may disproportionately impact LMICs and females, who already face high health burdens,” the researchers wrote.
Nunez called for better education and awareness about these growing trends.
“As a healthcare community we have a responsibility to be more vigilant in screening, testing, and proactively providing COPD education to female patients as well as communities that may not have easy access to this information,” Nunez said.
“Education accompanied by action can have a positive impact by mobilizing people to get diagnosed and treated early,” Nunez said.