Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), also known as emphysema or chronic bronchitis, is a serious lung disease that makes it difficult to breath and, when severe, can cause long-term disability that inhibits even the most basic of daily tasks.
COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States; more than 12 million people suffer from the disease and it is estimated another 12 million remain undiagnosed.
Every four minutes someone dies from COPD, more frequently than from breast cancer and diabetes combined. Recent studies show that older adults with COPD run a greater risk for developing the plaque that increases the risk of stroke. November is designated National COPD Awareness Month to raise public awareness and education and improve prevention and early diagnosis of this deadly disease. New York State Governor Andrew M. Cuomo has officially made this designation for the state of New York as well.
“COPD is not curable but it is preventable and can be treated,” says Touchstone Health HMO Chief Medical Officer Mitchell Strand, M.D. “Effective management of COPD is more likely with an early diagnosis. Unfortunately, seniors may dismiss the warning signs as being related to aging or being out of shape. If you have risks or symptoms of the disease, see your physician.”
Cigarette smoking is the primary risk factor for COPD and responsible for 80-90 percent of all cases. Chemical fumes, dust, and other pollution, especially on the job, can also lead to COPD. Less common factors include a history of childhood respiratory infections and a rare genetic condition.
Symptoms and other signs of COPD include:
- Chronic coughing
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble performing simple daily tasks such as climbing stairs, shopping or household cleaning
- Excessive production of sputum (also called phlegm or mucus)
- Inability to take a deep breath or feeling like you can't breathe
If you have symptoms or risk factors for the disease, see your physician for a simple breathing test called spirometry. According to the American Lung Association, only 21-35 percent of primary care physicians order spirometry for symptomatic smokers, so ask your doctor if testing is appropriate to help ensure early detection.
If diagnosed with COPD, take all medication as prescribed by your health care provider, and if you smoke, quit. Keep active and include pulmonary rehabilitation, which can help rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath. Keep abreast of the latest information and seek support to help control and manage the disease.
COPD is preventable and best treated when discovered early. Educate yourself and be aware of the signs and symptoms of this disease to keep you and your family healthy.