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COPD Awareness All Year

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Many people give little thought to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) - also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. But it's constantly on the minds of the 11 million Americans that live with COPD, because it makes the simple act of breathing a struggle. That's why November's COPD Awareness Month is so important. When you consider that COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and is frequently undiagnosed and undertreated - one month just doesn't seem to be enough. Our year-round message for those with COPD is "you are not alone!" Information, resources and support are available, to help patients and caregivers take control of COPD.

Understanding COPD
COPD is a chronic lung disease that makes it hard to breathe and worsens over time. COPD accounts for more than 140,000 deaths each year in the U.S. Tragically, this number is growing. COPD seems to get less attention than you would expect for a disease with such a huge impact. At the American Lung Association, we believe it is time to make COPD a year-round priority.

Smoking is the primary cause of COPD - accounting for 80 to 90 percent of all cases. However, other factors can also cause COPD, including exposure to air pollution and genetic factors. While there is currently no cure for COPD, the good news is that COPD is mostly preventable and symptoms are treatable.

  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
  • Producing a lot of sputum (also called phlegm or mucus)
  • Feeling like you can't breathe or take a deep breath
  • Wheezing

COPD is often not found until the disease is very advanced because people don't recognize the early warning signs. However, when COPD is diagnosed early, much can be done to treat the symptoms and help manage the disease. People at risk of COPD, especially current and former smokers, should consult their physicians about pulmonary function testing in order to diagnose the disease as early as possible and begin treatment.

If you are diagnosed with COPD, here are some first steps:
  • If you're a smoker - quit now. Stopping smoking has a more positive impact on the disease than any other type of treatment.
  • Create a COPD Management Plan with your healthcare provider to help with daily care, and if an emergency should occur.
  • Take any medicine you're prescribed exactly as instructed. If you are having problems, talk with your healthcare provider about possible solutions.
  • Get active! Keep as physically fit as possible and discuss pulmonary rehabilitation with your physician.
  • Get your yearly influenza vaccine and discuss the pneumonia vaccine with your physician.

COPD Support
If you've been diagnosed with COPD, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone! Controlling COPD is easier as a team effort. Ask for and get support from those who love you. The American Lung Association offers a number of COPD support resources, including our Better Breathers Clubs and our Living with COPD, an online support community.

COPD may be a major health problem, but it can be prevented and the symptoms better managed so that you can live a healthy and active life. If you want more information about COPD, check out our online resources or talk to a registered respiratory therapist at the American Lung Association's Lung HelpLine (1-800-LUNGUSA).