Lung disease underdiagnosed by doctors

Many patients with debilitating lung disease aren’t being diagnosed early enough by their family doctors, and more should be done to catch these cases and provide treatment, a new study suggests.

TORONTO — Many patients with debilitating lung disease aren’t being diagnosed early enough by their family doctors, and more should be done to catch these cases and provide treatment, a new study suggests.

It’s a finding that hits home for Michael Bond, a 52-year-old resident of Kirkland Lake, Ont., who was in and out of hospital and made frequent visits to the emergency department over the years with what was thought to be severe asthma.

In fact, he had COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is an umbrella term for chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

“I honestly wish that the doctors had known years ago more about it ’cause I really don’t think I’d be in the shape I’m in now if I’d been diagnosed earlier,” said Bond, who recently went through 5 1/2 weeks of therapy at West Park Healthcare Centre in Toronto.

“Basically I’m on painkillers for the rest of my life because of it. I’ve cracked ribs, I’ve busted ribs, I’ve done all kinds of horrible damage because of my coughing, which was because of the COPD.”

His breathing — huffing and puffing — was so bad, he said, that he couldn’t walk. “If I walked five steps or 10 steps, it was just killing me.”

The research, published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, focused on patients age 40 and over who made doctor visits to sites in Toronto, Ottawa and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. Each patient in the study had a smoking history of at least 20 pack-years — in other words, smoking the equivalent of a pack a day for two decades.

“Those are the people we considered to be at high risk of lung disease, so basically in the three sites involved we started screening people as they arrived,” explained Dr. Roger Goldstein, a co-author of the study, and a respirologist at West Park. Altogether, just over 1,000 people were enrolled.

“We found that a fairly high percentage — close to 21 per cent — tested positive for lung disease in terms of their spirometry, which is the gold standard, and most of those people were not aware of their diagnosis, and a sizable chunk of them continued to smoke,” Goldstein said.