Poorer people are much more likely to die from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) than wealthier patients due to damp housing and low pay, researchers have found. The research, carried out by Asthma + Lung UK and published in BMJ Open Respiratory Research, builds on previous findings that poorer people with COPD are five times more likely to die than the wealthiest people with the condition.
A survey of nearly 6,000 people living with COPD, one of Britain’s most common lung conditions, found that structural inequalities had a significant bearing on whether a patient would survive. Symptoms include breathlessness, a constant cough, wheezing and coughing up phlegm. An estimated 30,000 people die from COPD each year in the UK.
Of the nearly 4,000 people who suffered two or more acute attacks a year, such as breathlessness or severe coughing, 55% earned less than £20,000 a year and 13% lived in a cold, damp house.
More than 1.3 million people in the UK are affected by COPD, a group of lung conditions that include emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but many more are believed to have the disease without knowing.
Research in 2020 found that the mortality rate between the richest and poorest patients with COPD has grown in the past 11 years. The poorest 10% of patients are now five times more likely to die with the condition than the wealthiest, compared with four times more likely in 2009/11.
Prof Nick Hopkinson, medical director of Asthma + Lung UK, said: “One of the impacts of inequality is that it affects some of the most vulnerable people in society and it increases the risk of dying from lung disease. COPD is one of the biggest health problems in the UK and one of the biggest causes of hospital admissions so failure to deal with this is causing big problems for the health and social care system.”
The research found that of those who experienced two or more COPD exacerbations a year, 62% were more likely to smoke and 53% were more likely to have experienced occupational exposure to dust, fumes and chemicals.
Asthma + Lung UK said just 25% of people with COPD receive proper care. It urged patients to get a self-management plan, access to pulmonary rehab, help to stop smoking, a flu and pneumonia jab and support managing other conditions.