Is COPD the Third or Fourth Leading Cause of Death?

Have you noticed that in some places COPD is the third leading cause of death and some say it is the fourth? This may leave you wondering, which one is it? Early this year, The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released its “Mortality in the United States” data report, moving COPD from the third to the fourth leading cause of death based on early findings of death data for 2016. This report showed that preventable and accidental deaths are now the third leading cause of death, having risen 10% percent in 2016. Thus technically, it is correct to say that COPD is now the fourth leading cause of death as of 2016.

What is included in the category of accidental deaths? Deaths due to car accidents, falling, choking, and overdoses. An increase in accidental deaths has largely been because of a dramatic spike in motor vehicle accidents, and drug overdoses. With 37,814 individuals lives claimed from the opioid crisis in 2016 alone. COPD prevalence in the United States

Although COPD has moved to the fourth leading cause of death, it is important to highlight that this does NOT mean that COPD has improved. There was little change in COPD death rates, as has been the case for a number of years. COPD is still the third leading CHRONIC DISEASE cause of death and there has not been the drop in potentially preventable deaths in COPD that have been seen in other leading causes of death like heart disease and stroke. We also know that the situation is worse in certain areas of the country, in rural areas and for some groups like women and American Indian populations. Later this summer, the COPD Foundation will be releasing the first ever State Report Card on COPD to shine a light on the burden of disease in each state and how they compare to others.

More than ever we need to continue to advocate for the COPD community, and as a Foundation, we are committed to state and federal policy initiatives to improve the lives of patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers.

Did you want to help increase funding for COPD research? Have you had a positive experience with pulmonary rehabilitation and think others should have access to it to? Do you have trouble with oxygen accessibility? Want to act and make your voice heard? Your voice matters! This is the time for you to let your elected officials know about COPD issues that you care about! Join our State Captains Program or sign up for our COPD Action Center Action Alerts today!


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  • Great article to check out an learn more about why COPD has moved to the fourth leading cause of death

    • Tracie, Thanks for this detailed explanation, appreciate the information.
  • Thank you for posting. I was wondering that. It’s still sad though.
  • Tracie i would like very much so to post this to my support group site(s) Do you mine if i do?


    • Hi Jimmy! I hope you are having a nice day! Yes, absolutely, please feel free to share around!
  • Three doctors diagnosed me with COPD within the past 5 years, based on Xrays, CT scans and a lung biopsy. One doctor added Bronchiactisus and Emphysema, another added Asbestosis. Other issues I have been diagnosed with include arthritis and degenerative disc disease in my back and spine.
    I have applied for disability here in Colorado, have entered the system of Medicaid sponsored medical care. My primary doctor limits me to three issues to discuss with him in one visit, but says I can come in every day if I like... but he doesn't listen anyway and makes me feel I am nothing but a nuisance and brushes off my symptoms as if I'm a hypochondriac and there's nothing wrong with me. In his defense, he did prescribe a good treatment for my eczema persistent jock itch.
    The Orthopedic specialist he sent me to agreed with my previous diagnosis of degenerative disc disease and arthritis, but couldn't comprehend my description of the pain I've dealt with since my early twenties. She ordered more Xrays and physical therapy, then died of lung cancer days before my last visit was scheduled.
    On to my Pulmonologist... referral from my primary doctor...
    First visit... bitched at me for 15 of the 20 minute visit about the fact that all I had provided him to start his treatment of my case was my most recent CT Scan of my lungs, from 6 month ago. He made me feel like an idiot and said my lungs sounded normal and tgat he couldn't see anything wrong with my lungs from the CT Scan... only that from what he could see from the images and from my description of my symptoms was that he might agree with my diagnosis of COPD with Bronchiactisus.
    He had me come back for a Pulmonary function test a week later and I saw him again a couple weeks later. He said my test showed my lung function was right at the bottom of normal, a percent under. I'd provided him with all my former records, to which he said, "Yes, I see that your nodule size has not changed, your pulmonary function test results have not improved, tgat you were indeed diagnosed with COPD, Bronchiactisus, emphysema and Asbestosis... but I can only see tgat you have mild asthma. He had me walk around the office with an oxygen clip on my finger... My oxygen read as low as 84, but jumped up as high as 87. He checked his own then, which read 90 and he freaked out! But said my level was normal and said no to my request for a portable oxygen concentrator, though I should him the only time I really feel ok is when I'm laying in my bed with my CPAP on my face, which is connected to an oxygen concentrator.
    Bottom line. I'm sick. I don't feel like doing anything. I'm on 15 prescription drugs. I am hurting, but refuse any offers by doctors for prescription pain pills because of the addictive nature of them and because I've seen tgem kill one of my 4 brothers and how they are destroying the lives of two of my five sisters... I can't breath, cough almost constantly, am gaining weight because of the lack of energy to exercise and my daily dose of Prednisone, I've become a recluse and spend a great deal of my time contemplating suicide and all my options of carrying it out.
    Please offer any advice and help

    • I am an asthma COPD resource specialist. I work with patients and providers in primary care assisting with education and resources. I would like to suggest a couple things.
      1. call a crisis hotline 1-800-273-8255
      2. join a pulmonary rehab group, you will meet like kind.
      3. call your PCP office and asked for a visit, note your feelings and ask for a social worker intervention. Someone that you can talk to about your feelings and perceived lack of quality care.