Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) affects approximately one in seven New Zealanders aged over 40 years, and is the fourth leading cause of premature death, illness or impairment in this country behind heart disease, anxiety/depression and stroke. A diagnosis of COPD may be considered in adult patients with long-term exposure to respiratory irritants, e.g. cigarette smoke, or with symptoms typical of COPD, i.e. breathlessness, cough, and/or sputum production. COPD cannot be reliably diagnosed on symptoms alone and requires spirometry to confirm a diagnosis. However, in some patients it can be challenging to differentiate between COPD and asthma with chronic airflow limitation. Spirometry can be reliably performed in primary care with the appropriate training.
This is part one of a two part article Part two can be read here