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Chronic Airflow Obstruction

Please click on image to access IPH’s Chronic Airflow Obstruction Briefing that was published in June 2012

What is chronic airflow obstruction?

Chronic airflow obstruction (CAO) is a chronic lung condition that interferes with normal breathing. CAO includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

IPH has systematically estimated and forecast the prevalence of CAO on the island of Ireland.



Cigarette smoking is the primary cause of CAO. Other risk factors include indoor and outdoor air pollution, exposure to certain dusts and chemicals, and the genetic disorder alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Burden of Disease study provides estimates of premature mortality and time lived in ill health due to conditions of the respiratory system including CAO. Non-communicable respiratory diseases (ICD 10 codes J30-J98) are estimated to be responsible for 3.9% of premature mortality and 7.5% of years lived with disability in Europe. WHO estimates that COPD (ICD 10 codes J40-J44) is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide and predicts that it will soon become the third leading cause of death.

Non-communicable respiratory diseases (ICD 10 codes J30-J99) were responsible for 6.9% of all deaths in the Republic of Ireland in 2008 and for 7.2% of all deaths in Northern Ireland in 2010.



In the Republic of Ireland, the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) national clinical programme for COPD aims to reduce morbidity, mortality, and access to care through better diagnosis, treatment and services. The HSE’s Tobacco Control Framework  provides an evidence-based approach to address tobacco and to outline national standards for service provision. The Department of Health are currently reviewing the report of the Tobacco Free Policy Review Group Towards a Tobacco Free Society

In Northern Ireland, the Service Framework for Respiratory Health and Wellbeing sets standards for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care, rehabilitation and palliative care of individuals and communities at a greater risk of developing respiratory disease. The Ten Year Tobacco Control Strategy for Northern Ireland aims to create a tobacco-free society through fewer people starting to smoke, more people stopping smoking and greater protection from tobacco-related harm.


IPH CAO estimates and forecasts

IPH has estimated and forecast clinical diagnosis rates of CAO among adults for the years 2010, 2015 and 2020.

In the Republic of Ireland, the data are based on the Survey of Lifestyle, Attitudes and Nutrition (SLÁN) 2007. The data describe the number of people who report that they have experienced doctor-diagnosed chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive lung (pulmonary) disease, or emphysema in the previous 12 months (annual clinical diagnosis). Data is available by age and sex for each Local Health Office of the Health Service Executive (HSE) in the Republic of Ireland.

In Northern Ireland, the data are based on the Health and Social Wellbeing Survey 2005/06. The data describe the number of people who report that they have experienced doctor-diagnosed COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease eg chronic bronchitis / emphysema or both disorders at any time in the past (lifetime clinical diagnosis). Data are available by age and sex for each Local Government District in Northern Ireland.

Clinical diagnosis rates in the Republic of Ireland relate to the previous 12 months and are not directly comparable with clinical diagnosis rates in Northern Ireland which relate to anytime in the past.


Click here for details of the methods used to calculate the estimates and forecasts


Use the Health Well's Data Visualiser to explore or download the data (last updated June 2012)


View the CAO theme on the Health Well's Community Profiles.


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