Study: One in 25 Irish people at risk of developing deadly disease

One in 25 Irish people is at risk of developing the world’s fourth most lethal medical condition due to our gene pool and chronic smoking habits.

Harvard University and the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland made the claim in research which warns that people could die if they fail to act on the danger.

According to the study, approximately 4% of the population is at risk of being diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) at some stage in their life.

The condition is an umbrella term for debilitating and chronic lung problems that narrow the airways, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and kills more than 3m people worldwide every year.

The illness affects at least 440,000 people in Ireland and is the world’s fourth most common form of death, behind heart disease, stroke, and respiratory infections.

According to the research, the Irish gene pool and our smoking habit mean that if no action is taken the rate will get worse.

The Harvard and RCSI study was supported by the Alpha One Foundation campaign group and focused specifically on the protease inhibitor Alpha-1 antitrypsin.

If a person does not have enough of this protein in their body, they are at a significantly increased risk of developing the most aggressive forms of COPD.

Prior to the study, it was believed the risk was limited to people who inherited two abnormal Alpha-1 genes.

However, the research found that, in Ireland at least, the problem can also occur when just one abnormal gene is inherited.

People in this risk bracket further compound the potential difficulties by smoking, the study found.

Of the 250,000 with this genetic make-up in Ireland, more than 1,500 have been found to be at risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“This research signals a major breakthrough in understanding the heightened risk of COPD for people who have the combination of one normal and one abnormal Alpha-1 antitrypsin gene,” the study authors found.

“If people know that they have a genetic pre-disposition to developing COPD, it allows intervention at an earlier age, encourages smoking cessation, and prevents a further decline in lung function in a disease that is otherwise preventable.”

RCSI member Gerry McElvaney said anyone concerned that they may be affected should contact the Alpha One Foundation, of which he is chairman, to organise a free screening to avoid suffering unnecessarily from the debilitating condition.

lFurther information is available from the National Centre for Alpha-1 at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin, on 01 8093871, or alpha1@rcsi.ie.

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