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The Missing Million (COPD)

More than one million Canadians are living with COPD and don’t know it

It is estimated that 1.6 million Canadians live with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), yet it is believed that almost as many have COPD and don’t know it. COPD is a disease many Canadians are unaware of and it is now the third leading cause of death, and the number one cause of hospitalization, in Canada. It is a disease that places a tremendous burden on patients, caregivers, and the healthcare system.

The Lung Association has partnered with Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd. on a national project, Helping the Missing Million. The project’s purpose is to better understand why patients aren’t getting diagnosed with COPD sooner, and then determine what needs to be done to ensure that they are.

The full results of this multi-phased project will launch in the spring of 2019. However, the initial findings are alarming. A survey, conducted by Leger, of those diagnosed with COPD and those at high-risk of developing it found that prior to being diagnosed, 56 per cent of patients did not know what COPD was. 35 per cent of people with one COPD symptom did not speak to their doctor about it. Before being diagnosed, 65 per cent of patients were experiencing symptoms for at least one year. Among those who experienced any COPD symptoms, only 44 per cent had a spirometry test to investigate the symptoms further. A Spirometry test is a pulmonary function test. It is thought to be the gold standard in diagnosing COPD.

Our initial findings

The initial findings show that more awareness around COPD, including its risk factors and symptoms, is a gap that needs to be filled. Those who have smoked in the past, or currently smoke, and are over 40 years of age are at high-risk of developing COPD and should speak with their healthcare provider. If they are experiencing any of COPD’s, symptoms like shortness of breath, wheezing or heavy phlegm it is even more important that they talk to their doctor. Empowering patients to speak up as soon as symptoms arise can ensure they are not only getting diagnosed better and quickly, but put on the right course of treatment faster. The sooner help arrives the sooner the disease’s progression is slowed.

The final outcomes of Helping the Missing Million, which includes a national and provincial scorecard, will allow The Lung Association to better shape an environment that will support improved diagnosis and treatment for those living with COPD.


“We are excited to be partnering with Boehringer Ingelheim on Helping the Missing Million, which will give us more insight into the barriers that are preventing people from being diagnosed with COPD, and once diagnosed, discover what the challenges are in getting them the best treatment possible.” – George Habib, President & CEO, The Lung Association – Ontario.

“We are pleased to partner with The Lung Association on this important initiative – which will help us to work toward the shared goal of ensuring people with COPD have the right tools to be diagnosed and treated quickly and effectively. These research findings will help us to identify barriers to optimal COPD care for patients, and together with policy-makers, we can create an action plan that ensures the best outcomes for the patient – who is at the center of all that we do.” – Richard Mole, President & CEO, Boehringer Ingelheim (Canada) Ltd.

“I am thrilled to see work being done to better understand what we can do to better diagnose and treat those living with COPD. Lack of awareness and timely diagnosis are big concerns preventing some with COPD from getting the treatment they need to slow the progression of this disease. It is great to see this is being addressed.” – Dr. Andrea Gershon, Scientist, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.