Odds are you know someone with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. With 11 million Americans diagnosed with COPD -- and maybe as many more who have not been diagnosed -- you may know even more people than you think. But how much do you really know about COPD? COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. If this surprises you, you're not alone. During November's National COPD Awareness Month, we will raise awareness about COPD and offer important resources for those who are impacted.
Understanding COPD --
You may have heard of emphysema or chronic bronchitis. Since many people have features of both conditions, health professionals prefer to call the disease chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. COPD is a lung disease that, over time, makes it hard to breathe and can eventually lead to death. COPD accounts for more than 134,000 deaths each year in the U.S. Tragically, the number of people dying from COPD is growing. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., and yet it seems to get comparatively little attention for a disease with such a huge toll. We at the American Lung Association believe it is time to change that! It's time to talk about and tackle COPD.
Smoking causes 80 to 90 percent of COPD deaths, but it can also be caused by other factors, including exposure to air pollution or a genetic condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency. While there is currently no cure for COPD, the good news is that COPD is mostly preventable and the symptoms are treatable.
Symptoms of COPD --
COPD is often not found until the disease is very advanced because people don't recognize the early warning signs. However, COPD can be found early and there is much that can be done to treat the symptoms and help manage the disease. Symptoms of COPD include:
- Persistent cough, sometimes called "smoker's 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
Like most diseases, the earlier COPD is diagnosed, the better one's chances for better managing symptoms so you can be active and healthy. 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.
Once Diagnosed --
If you've been diagnosed with COPD, or are the caregiver of someone with COPD, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone! There is a wealth of free information, resources and support systems in place to help you manage COPD symptoms and lead a full, active life. 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.
- Take any medicine you're prescribed exactly as instructed. If you are having problems, talk with your healthcare provider about possible solutions.
- Get your yearly influenza vaccine and discuss the pneumonia vaccine with your physician. There is a special influenza vaccine for people over the age of 65.
- Get active! Keep as physically fit as possible and discuss pulmonary rehabilitation with your physician. Pulmonary rehabilitation can help you rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath.
- Educate yourself. The Lung Association has an ever-expanding wealth of information and resources to help you better understand your lungs and COPD. Our newest COPD videos explain: How to Use a Nebulizer, How to Clean a Nebulizer, Belly Breathing and Pursed Lip Breathing.
COPD may be a major health problem, but it can be prevented and the symptoms treated. If you want more information about COPD, check out our web resources or call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine (1-800-LUNGUSA).
Get Involved --
Join with the American Lung Association to tell Congress to increase funding for COPD research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Continued investments in research can lead to lifesaving breakthroughs and provide new hope for those who are faced with COPD--but only if Congress continues its investments. Please help us urge Congress that sustained funding for COPD research is vital for saving lives.