Objective: The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in middle aged and older adults.
Methodology: A random sample of 7,005 adults aged between 45 and 69 years was drawn from electoral rolls for Melbourne, Victoria, Australia. A postal survey was conducted using the European Community Respiratory Health Survey respiratory screening questionnaire with additional questions on chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Participants were asked to return the survey by reply mail. Non-responders were sent a reminder postcard after 2 weeks, a replacement questionnaire after 4 weeks and then contacted by telephone.
Results: Completed questionnaires were returned by 4,906 (70.0%) participants. The commonest symptoms were exertional dyspnoea (27.2%) and wheezing (20.5%). Chronic bronchitis was reported by 12.0% and emphysema by 1.2%. Males were significantly more likely to report cough and sputum, while females were more likely to report asthma. The prevalence of exertional dyspnoea, cough and sputum, emphysema and heart disease increased with age. Chronic bronchitis, emphysema and most respiratory symptoms were associated with smoking.
Conclusions: Self-reported chronic bronchitis or emphysema affect one in eight middle aged and older adults. Differences between men and women are partly explained by differences in smoking. These findings require confirmation with lung function tests.