Rationale: Infradiagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may be related to the lack of knowledge about the disease and/or the scarce use of diagnostic procedures. This study analyses the frequency of respiratory symptoms and the knowledge about COPD in the general population, together with the use of spirometry in individuals at risk of COPD.
Population and method: A telephone survey was carried out in 6758 subjects older than 40 years, stratified by age, habitat (urban or rural) and region, screened by random-digit dialling.
Results: Up to 24% reported having at least one chronic respiratory symptom and 20.9% had a self-reported respiratory diagnosis. A total of 19.2% were active smokers and 40% had never tried to quit. Only 60% of the individuals with chronic symptoms had consulted a physician and, of them, only 45% had undergone spirometry. Spirometry was mentioned more frequently by subjects attended by pulmonologists than by GPs (67.6 vs. 28.6%; P<0.001). The term COPD was identified only by 8.6% of the participants.
Conclusions: Many individuals with respiratory symptoms do not request medical attention and do not attempt to quit smoking. There is a lack of knowledge about COPD. Physicians should more actively inform about the disease and increase the use of spirometry for early detection.