As COPD cases rise in Mumbai, doctors say it is an unrecognised epidemic across India

Around 5.56 lakh people die from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in India annually and over 30 million suffer from it

City’s pulmonologists have observed a shocking rise in number of people suffering from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) in Mumbai due to increased pollution.

Though the financial capital of the country is faring better than Delhi in its air quality, the air quality index (AQI) calculated by the Mahahrashtra Pollution Control Board (MPCB) has been on the poorer side very frequently. As a result, in the last few weeks, doctors have registered a rise in COPD and other respiratory ailments.

An AQI below 100 is considered healthy, between 201 and 300, it is considered ‘poor’, 301 and 400 is ‘very poor’.

“We are seeing a spike in COPD cases in the last few weeks. This is that time of the year where COPD exacerbation cases go up. We advise COPD patients to stay indoors if air quality is poor,” said Dr Lancelot Pinto, pulmonologist at PD Hinduja hospital.

COPD is the third biggest cause of mortality in the world. The most common symptoms are cough, breathlessness and anyone exposed to any kind of pollution.

“We had done a study in which 2,065 healthy adults underwent a spirometry test at a routine health check-up. We found that the estimated prevalence of COPD was around 4.26%. However, 96% of these patients were undiagnosed, suggesting that the overall prevalence of the disease in the population might be grossly underestimated,” said Pinto.

Doctors say it is a myth that only smokers are prone to COPD. “Non-smokers are equally prone to COPD due to high pollution in urban areas and bio-mass fuel release in rural areas. People are still ignorant and confused about COPD due to lack of awareness,” said Dr Samir Garde, pulmonologist, Global hospital.

copd-16-11-2016“Poor AQI increases respiratory ailments in people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children. COPD patients are one of the worst hit as it is not curable, but treatment can delay the progress of the disease. It is an under-diagnosed, life-threatening lung disease that interferes with normal breathing and is not fully reversible,” said Dr Jalil Parker, chest physician, Lilavati hospital.

WHO estimates 65 million people have moderate to severe COPD. It is estimated that around 5.56 lakh people die from COPD in India annually and over 30 million suffer from it.  “COPD is an unrecognised epidemic in India. We need more study and research on the same,” said Parker.

Primary cause of COPD is tobacco smoke (including second-hand or passive exposure). Other risk factors include:

  • Indoor air pollution (such as solid fuel used for cooking and heating in rural areas)
  • Outdoor air pollution
  • Occupational dusts and chemicals (vapours, irritants and fumes)
  • Frequent lower respiratory infections during childhood