Results of a new survey released this week by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health found that awareness of COPD continues to grow in the United States.

The study found that 68% of adults are now aware of COPD compared with 64% in 2008, and 49% in a 2004 survey. Among those at high risk of developing COPD who are currently smokers, awareness rose to 74% this year compared to 69% one year ago. However, less than half of all adults (44%) understand that COPD can be treated.

The study results come at the onset of National COPD Awareness Month (November).

According to an announcement from NHLBI, half of those 24 million men and women in the United States affected by COPD remain undiagnosed despite recognizable symptoms.

“Awareness is an important first step,” said James P. Kiley, PhD, director, NHLBI Division of Lung Diseases. “However, awareness alone is not enough. People at risk of developing the disease need to know what the disease looks and feels like, and most importantly, to understand that it can be treated. The key is to get tested and start treatment as soon as possible.”

Physicians maintain an optimistic view about COPD treatability, according to the survey. Approximately 9 out of 10 primary care physicians agreed that available treatments can optimize quality of life for their patients with COPD. However, the survey showed that patients may not be familiar with this message.

Forty-one percent of current smokers do not talk to their doctors about symptoms of COPD because they "do not want to hear another quit smoking message," according to the survey results.

“We know that for many people, taking the step to talk to a doctor about their smoking and symptoms is difficult,” said Kiley. “But these actions, including testing of lung function, should be seen as proactive for better health.”