MORE than 20,000 people in Sheffield are living with a chronic, life-threatening lung disease – and only half of them know it.
Doctors think there are 10,000 people in the city who have undiagnosed Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease – COPD – which means they are missing out on treatments, advice and support that can improve the quality and length of their life.
COPD, a term used to describe lung conditions such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is incurable, but it is treatable.
The disease, usually caused by smoking or exposure to fumes and dust, damages and narrows the body’s airways, making it harder to get air in and out of the lungs.
Dr Maria Read, a GP at Dovercourt Surgery, part of the Central Sheffield GP Consortium, said: “Respiratory disease is the third-largest killer in the UK but there is still lack of awareness out there about COPD.
“We need people with symptoms to come forward and get the help they need to live a healthy and active life for longer.”
Former pub landlord Colin Wood, aged 60, of Sheffield Lane Top, was diagnosed with COPD 18 months ago.
“I’ve been a smoker all my life and every winter I’ve had a chest infection, but I’ve always just put it down to a smoker’s cough,” the grandfather-of-eight said.
“My GP had been asking me to have a spirometry test for years, but I didn’t want to know, I just thought it could only be bad news.”
Eventually Colin, who used to run the Travellers Inn on Wadsley Bridge and the Sportsman on Barnsley Road, agreed to have the test, which involves blowing into a machine.
“The test took two or three minutes and the results flashed up onto a screen,” Colin said.
“The graph said I had only 40 per cent lung capacity. It was a massive shock.
“Although I’ve smoked all my life I have always done a bit of exercise, playing football, lugging beer barrels about.
“I asked the nurse if I stopped smoking would I get my lung capacity back? She said no, there’s nothing I could do about it, it was too late.”
The diagnosis was bleak, but if Colin had carried on smoking his health would have got even worse.
And his GP told him about a pulmonary rehabilitation class - which would teach him how to make the best use of the lung capacity he had left.
Colin immediately gave up smoking and went along to rehab class in Shirecliffe.
What he saw there strengthened his resolve to do something about his health.
“There were people there my age and younger relying on oxygen tanks,” he said.
“That was a real shock. I thought, ‘this could be me in a few years’.
“On the other hand there was a real sense of camaraderie, it was good to meet other people going through the same thing.”
Within six weeks of the classes, which help people exercise to improve the strength of their lungs, Colin could see marked improvements.
He said: “Before I was wheezing, I couldn’t keep up with my sons on walks. Now I can even go for a bit of a jog.
“I’m not running marathons but I can do a bit of gardening and walk to the paper shop. I try and leave the car at home because the doctors told me you can lose the fitness as soon as you let up.”
Colin, who lives with his wife Carol, 58, is urging everyone who smokes to get tested for COPD, to see what the risk to their health really is.
“I think everyone who is over 35 and smokes should get tested. Not many people know about COPD and not many people know about the pulmonary rehab classes.
“But if you get tested, it could change your life like it has for me.”
Dr Read said people should look out for symptoms including shortness of breath, coughing, phlegm and wheezing.
She said social deprivation can have an impact – people living in the Manor ward are 40 times more likely to have COPD than those living in the Hallam ward.
Many people don’t realise they have a problem until they can not do everyday activities like cleaning, climbing the stairs, gardening and walking.
And then many people accept the debilitating symptoms without realising how effective treatments can be.
Dr Read said: “We know that people even with mild COPD exercise less, reduce activities to avoid becoming breathless and have less muscle mass than people without the condition.
“This leads to reduced fitness so when they do try an activity they become breathless even sooner.
“Being fitter helps sufferers to stay healthy and well for longer.
“I would encourage those with COPD to take up the opportunities available in the city including pulmonary rehabilitation and using the city’s leisure and exercise facilities to attend gentle exercise classes that are enjoyable and very effective.”