Alpha-1

Alpha-1 Week

copd

Welcome to Alpha -1 Week at the ATS!

It is with great pleasure that we welcome you to "Alpha-1/Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Week at the ATS"!  Our goal is to provide information that we hope will be helpful to you in managing your chronic lung disease.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a very common condition that currently affects approximately 24 million people in the United States (US), an estimated 6.3% of the US population, as well as millions of people worldwide. COPD is under-diagnosed--many people with COPD are unaware of their disease, and may attribute symptoms to "slowing down with age". Alpha-1-antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency is a genetically inherited disorder that accounts for approximately 2-3% of cases of COPD. In this condition, deficient levels of a protein that circulates in the blood leads to increased risk of developing destruction of lung tissue and other problems including liver disease. Because AAT deficiency has variable presentations, it often goes unrecognized, especially among younger people.  The World Health Organization currently recommends that individuals with COPD should be tested at least once for the presence of AAT deficiency. Early recognition is important, since supplementation of the deficient protein may help protect against lung injury and maintain lung function for some individuals.

COPD is a major cause of morbidity and mortality. People with COPD, including those with AAT deficiency, experience distressing symptoms including shortness of breath, coughing, wheezing, exercise intolerance, difficulty performing activities of daily living and impaired quality of life.  They often require frequent office visits with healthcare professionals and may require hospitalizations. COPD is currently the third leading cause of death in the US.  Medical comorbidities such as heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, osteoporosis, anemia, anxiety and depression, recurrent infections and lung cancer are also common among individuals with COPD.   Importantly also, COPD is commonly mis-diagnosed, as other conditions such as asthma and congestive heart failure can cause similar symptoms.

Although COPD is not "curable" and imposes a large burden on patients, it can be readily managed! A focus on wellness is tremendously important, since comprehensive treatment can lead to marked improvements in symptoms and quality of life, and often also to stabilization of lung function over time.

Further general information regarding COPD and AAT deficiency is provided below.   The ATS supports those who are working diligently to develop strategies that will improve the lives of individuals with AAT deficiency and COPD as a whole.

Carolyn L. Rochester, MD

Carolyn L. Rochester, MD  
Professor of Medicine
Yale University School of Medicine
Medical Director, Yale COPD Program
Director, Pulmonary Rehabilitation, VA Connecticut Healthcare System
Immediate Past Chair, ATS Assembly on Pulmonary Rehabilitation

Last Reviewed: November 2018