One in 25 Irish people is born with genes that leave them at risk of lung disease.
New research shows that people who have inherited a combination of a normal and abnormal alpha-1 antitrypsin gene have an increased risk of developing a debilitating lung condition.
Cigarette smoke is the dominant factor in determining whether these individuals who carry this combination of genes are more likely to develop COPD.
COPD is the name for a collection of lung conditions including chronic bronchitis, emphysema and chronic obstructive airways disease.
It creates difficulty breathing, primarily due to the narrowing of their airways.
Researchers from the Alpha One Foundation, the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI) and Harvard University have published the new research in the 'American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine'.
Professor Gerry McElvaney, professor of medicine at the RCSI and principal investigator and chairman of the Alpha One Foundation Ireland, said they are urging people diagnosed with COPD – around 440,000 – to get tested for alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency through a free national screening programme.
"It can be easily diagnosed by a simple blood test. For more information on how to be tested people can contact the National Centre for Alpha-1 based at Beaumont Hospital, Dublin," he said.
"If people know that they have a genetic predisposition 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."
For more information: (01) 8093871 or visit www.alpha1.ie.