Lung diseases represent major costs for society

July 16, 2006

COPD and asthma are common lung diseases that profoundly degrade the quality of life of those who suffer from them. A recent thesis from Karolinska Institutet shows that these two diseases are also a major economic burden on society, something that has not previously received attention.

COPD and asthma are two of the most common chronic diseases both in Sweden and in the rest of the world, but there is only limited knowledge about their economic consequences for society. This is particularly true for COPD, which is diagnosed in most cases only after the patient has suffered from the disease for some time. Most previous studies of the economic consequences of the diseases have been based on various health care databases, and they have for this reason not been able to give a complete picture of the effects on health economics.

A new thesis from Karolinska Institutet presents calculations of the costs to society of the two diseases based on a representative selection of the general population in Sweden. The study was not based on patient databases, and thus the cases that have not been registered in the health care system are also included in the results. The researchers collected information by telephone interviews concerning how people with COPD and asthma use resources both directly, by using the health care system, and indirectly, by receiving sickness benefit when unable to work.

The study has shown that annual societal costs for asthma in Sweden amount to approximately SEK 3.7 billion in the age-group 25-56 years. The average cost to society for each person with asthma is SEK 15,919 per year. The cost for a person with severe asthma, however, is ten times higher than that of a person with mild asthma. The indirect costs are higher than the direct costs, being 69% of the total.

The annual costs for COPD in Sweden amount to approximately SEK 9.1 billion, which corresponds to just over SEK 13,000 for each patient with the disease. As is the case for asthma, it is the severe cases of COPD that cost most, over ten times the cost of mild cases. COPD is a largely underdiagnosed disease, and the distribution of societal costs for the disease between those who have been diagnosed with COPD by a doctor and those who have not was therefore analysed. Undiagnosed subjects accounted for approximately 40% of the total costs.

The study has also shown that COPD costs a great deal during what are known as "exacerbations", the periods in which the symptoms become acutely more severe, to be followed by an improvement. Severe exacerbations are 60 times more expensive than mild and moderate exacerbations. The indirect costs to society amount to 58% of the total costs of COPD.

"Health economic epidemiology of obstructive airway diseases"

For more information, please contact:
Med Dr Sven-Arne Jansson
Institute of Environmental Medicine
Lung and Allergy Research
Phone 46-90-776-841

Karolinska Institutet

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