Adopting the theme of “Learn More, Breath Better,®” the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) has deemed November National COPD Awareness Month. It’s a time for organizations, communities, and health care providers to raise overall awareness of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.)
With good reason: 15 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, and it is estimated that another 12 million may have the disease without yet being diagnosed. As a result, the illness is currently the nation’s 3rd leading cause of death. What’s more, those with COPD have an increased risk of developing heart disease, lung cancer, and a variety of other conditions.
What you should know
As its name implies, COPD is an inflammatory lung disease that obstructs airflow from the lungs. When you breathe, air travels through airways in your lungs to millions of tiny air sacs. When a lung is healthy, the airways are open, the air sacs fill up with air, and the air is released quickly. With COPD, however, it is a struggle to get air into and out of the air sacs.
Two common types of COPD are chronic bronchitis, which is characterized by a persistent cough and mucus, caused by inflammation of the airways; and emphysema, caused by damage of the air sacs or the collapsing of the smallest breathing tubes in the lungs.
The NHLBI recommends this four-point strategy for confronting the disease:
1. Be aware of the risk factors. These include long-term exposure to irritating gases or particulate matter, especially cigarette smoke.
2. Recognize the symptoms. Do you or a loved one have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and chronic cough with mucus?
3. Talk to your doctor. He or she can conduct a simple breathing test to diagnose the condition. COPD is a progressive disease that gets worse over time, so the sooner a diagnosis is made, the better.
4. Follow treatment advice. COPD can be managed with medication and adjustments to lifestyle.
As National COPD Awareness Month approaches, learn all you can about the disease. Whether you’re dealing with COPD firsthand or care about someone who is, schedule time to meet with a doctor. Also, pass along what you learn to the people close to you — and even connect with others who are also living with COPD to form a support group.
Scientists are launching a new series of questions that are meant to find folks with undiagnosed COPD and less critical of smokers. Here's the questions they are proposing:
- 1. Have your ever lived or worked in a place with dirty or polluted air, smoke, second-hand smoke or dust?
- 2. Does your breathing change with seasons, weather, or air quality?
- 3. Does your breathing make it difficult to do things such as carry heavy loads, shovel dirt or snow, jog, play tennis, or swim?
- 4. Compared to others your age, do you tire easily?
- 5. In the past 12 months, how many times did you miss work, school, or other activities due to a cold, bronchitis, or pneumonia?