lung disease

The British Lung Foundation’s research findings are explored here on lung disease in the UK and their ‘battle for breath’ campaign

The British Lung Foundation’s statistics on lung disease in the UK were compiled as part of their Respiratory Health of the Nation project by teams at St George’s University of London, Nottingham University and Imperial College London. Surveys of the general population suggest that approximately 12.7 million people in the UK (approximately 1 in 5) have a history of asthma, COPD or another longstanding respiratory illness. Half of these (about 6.5 million people) report taking prescribed medication for lung disease in the last year.

Estimates based on general practice records suggest that 8 million people have been diagnosed with asthma, 1.2 million with COPD, and over 150,000 with interstitial lung diseases (pulmonary fibrosis or sarcoidosis), with numbers generally similar for males and females. From GP records, an estimated 86,000 people in the UK have ever been diagnosed with lung cancer, and over 5,000 (mainly men) have ever been diagnosed with mesothelioma.

Estimates based on general practice records suggest that in 2012 there were about 160,000 new cases of asthma, with numbers slightly higher among females than males, and over 110,000 people who developed COPD, with more males than females. There were about 10,000 new cases of pulmonary fibrosis and 4,500 of sarcoidosis.

According to GP statistics, there are over 32,000 new cases of lung cancer and over 2,000 new cases of mesothelioma annually. However, these are likely to underestimate the true incidence of cancer, because the diagnosis may be made in a hospital during a terminal illness, or post-mortem.

According to cancer registration statistics, during 2011, there were 43,463 new cases of lung cancer (23,770 among males and 19,693 among females), and 2,570 new cases of mesothelioma (2,172 among males and 398 among females).

Lung diseases are one of the leading causes of death in the UK. During 2008-12, lung diseases were responsible for 20% of all deaths in the UK each year. In 2012, there were 114,225 deaths from lung diseases compared to 158,383 from cardiovascular diseases. However, over the 5-year period, 2008–12, the proportion of deaths from cardiovascular diseases declined, whereas the proportion due to lung diseases remained constant.

Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) or shocklung, is a life-threatening condition in which the lungs become severely inflamed. It can be triggered by an infection such as pneumonia. You’ll usually need to be admitted to an intensive care unit to be treated.

Over half of the deaths from lung disease in the UK are due to lung cancer and COPD. Both conditions are strongly linked to tobacco smoking, which is also a risk factor for pneumonia, another leading cause of death. In 2012, 6.2% of all UK deaths were due to lung cancer, 5.3% to COPD and 5.1% to pneumonia.

Male and female deaths from lung disease

In 2012, 57,621 males and 56,604 females died from lung disease. Of the 35,419 people who died from lung cancer, 19,333 were males and 16,086 were females. The picture was similar for COPD. Of the 29,776 who died, 15,245 were males and 14,531 were females. However, with pneumonia, of the 28,952 who died, 16,713 were females and 12,239 were males.

The number of deaths from lung disease varies greatly according to age. The lowest numbers of deaths are among those aged 0–14 years and the highest among those aged over 65.

Children aged 0–14 years

In 2012, there were 2,435 deaths in children aged 0−14 years. Of these, only 262 were due to lung diseases and 102 to cardiovascular disease. Most of the deaths (74%) were from other causes. Of the 262 deaths from lung disease, 115 were the result of perinatal conditions (present in the time immediately before and after birth) and congenital respiratory conditions (present at birth, either inherited or caused by environmental factors). Large numbers of deaths in this age group were caused by pneumonia (58) and acute LRTI (25).

Adults aged 15−64 years

In 2012, in people aged 15–64 years, lung diseases caused 16% of all deaths among the major disease groups. Cardiovascular disease was responsible for 20%, non-respiratory for 31% and other causes for 33%. Of the 13,739 deaths from lung disease in this age group, lung cancer caused 8.4%. Deaths from cystic fibrosis were higher in young adults (105 deaths) compared with children (four deaths) and people over 65 (two deaths).

Adults over 65 years

In 2012, 476,510 people over the age of 65 died. Of these, 100,224 died from lung disease – the highest number among all age groups. In people over 65, among major disease groups, lung diseases cause 21% of deaths and cardiovascular disease causes 30% – higher figures than for any other age group

The number of deaths from pneumonia (27,520) and COPD (27,056) was high in this age group compared with others. There were 28,053 deaths from lung cancer among people over 65. However, the proportion of lung cancer deaths in this age group (5.9%) is lower than the proportion of young adults (8.4%). Death rates from lung disease vary across the UK

Death rates are affected by many factors, including:

  • Population structure;
  • Whether people live in urban or rural settings;
  • Standards of living;
  • The numbers who smoke;
  • Exposure through work to the causes of some lung diseases and;
  • Air pollution levels.

Hospital admissions and bed-days due to lung disease

Lung diseases place a heavy burden on health services. One way of attempting to measure the scale of this burden is to calculate the number of hospital admissions and bed-days due to lung disease. However, it should be noted that these figures are only the tip of the iceberg. Because of the nature of conditions such as asthma and COPD, many patients are managed in the community and are never admitted to hospital because of their lung condition.

In 2011, there were 694,000 hospital admissions for lung diseases in the UK – 8% of all admissions, like a cardiovascular disease at 9%. There were 6,120,400 bed-days due to lung disease – 10% of all bed-days, compared to 12% for cardiovascular disease.

Relative risk is used to compare risk in different groups of people. In medical research, all sorts of groups are compared to others to see whether belonging to one group or other puts you at greater risk of something. In this instance, relative risk has been used to see how people’s risk of being admitted to hospital for any lung disease varies according to where they live in England, Scotland and Wales.

You can find out how these figures were calculated. To find out more, please visit: lung-disease-UK-big-picture

The battle for breath – the impact of lung disease in the UK

For the past 3 years, the British Lung Foundation has been investigating the impact of lung disease in the UK. Their report, the battle for breath, examines the overall extent and impact of it across the UK. It also takes a closer look at the impact of 15 major lung conditions.

The new report is a valuable resource for policymakers, researchers, health care providers and more. It explains in detail the new findings and the changes that need to be made to tackle them. You can view the statistics website here. 

The key findings were:

  • Top three killer diseases in the UK;
  • 115,000 people a year die from lung disease – 1 person every 5 minutes;
  • Mortality figures are roughly the same as 10 years ago, yet heart disease has fallen 15%;
  • 1 in 5 people in the UK have been diagnosed with a lung disease and;
  • Every day, 1,500 new people are diagnosed with a lung disease.

You can read more and see BLF’s 6-point action plan for change in the full report, here.


British Lung Foundation

Tel: +44 (0)3000 030 555


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