Almost a quarter of people suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) wait an average of 5 years or more for diagnosis, according to a new study.
A survey released by charity Asthma + Lung found that one in eight people had waited more than a decade for treatment for COPD.
COPD is an incurable condition which causes severe breathlessness and affects around 1.4 million people in the UK. Late diagnosis heightens the risk of life-threatening flare-ups of the disease.
The umbrella term refers to a group of lung conditions which cause breathing difficulties, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and symptoms of the disease include breathlessness, a chesty cough and chest infections.
Asthma + Lung surveyed over 6,500 people for their report.
More than a third (34 per cent) of people surveyed said they were unable to recognise the signs of COPD and around 1 in 4 (23 per cent) said they were misdiagnosed as their doctor thought they had a chest infection or cough.
Access to care was also found to be a problem, with 1 in 4 (26 per cent) saying they couldn’t get an appointment and 1 in 5 (21 per cent) being unable to access diagnostic tests (including spirometry, a breathing test which is a key method of diagnosing COPD).
Babs Thwaites, 71, from Rainham, Essex has had COPD since her forties, and says taking up smoking was the worst decision she ever made.
“I was diagnosed with COPD just a few months after I quit smoking. I had pneumonia and then my doctor’s surgery gave me an appointment for a COPD check-up. No one had even sat me down to tell me I had it and what it would mean,” she said.
“I had never heard of the condition before, and at no stage during those early years, did anyone ever explain to me what COPD was and how I could help myself. I had no idea that the illness was progressive, and it was only when my first husband Colin died from the illness that I realised how serious it was.”
She added: “Now I take two inhalers a day, I also have a reliever inhaler and keep rescue medication at home for emergencies. COPD is a hidden disease. People cannot see the signs. Because you look fairly well, they don’t understand why you are using the disabled toilet. But I simply cannot walk up the stairs – I cannot do what other people do.”
Sarah Woolnough, CEO of Asthma + Lung UK, said: “We are hearing shocking stories of people spending years, even a decade of their lives, sometimes struggling to breathe, unaware that they have a lung condition which could be managed with the right treatment and support.
“Diagnosis of COPD needs to be faster and more accurate and there needs to be greater awareness of the seriousness of lung conditions and the signs and symptoms to look out for.”