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Up to 24 million Americans show impaired lung function, which is common among those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the third leading cause of death in the United States. It’s a staggering number, made more so by the fact that more than 12 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, while an estimated 12 million more have it but have not been diagnosed.
COPD, also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, is a lung disease characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing and over time makes it very difficult to breathe. COPD is not curable, but it is preventable and can be treated and managed effectively, particularly when the disease is diagnosed early.
Those at risk of COPD, especially current and former smokers with COPD symptoms, should consult their physicians about a spirometry test to diagnose the disease as early as possible and begin treatment.
The primary cause of COPD is inhalation of cigarette smoke. Other causes include exposure to occupational dust particles and chemicals as well as a rare genetic mutation called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.
The American Lung Association has helped provide information and support to people with lung diseases for more than a century. Every day, and especially during COPD Awareness Month, we need to reach out to those at risk and urge them to get tested. If you have any symptoms of COPD, get tested as soon as possible. The test is simple and quick. If someone you love is a current or former smoker with symptoms, urge them to get tested, too.
According to Dr. Norman Edelman, the American Lung Association’s Chief Medical Officer, only an estimated 21 to 35 percent of primary care physicians order spirometry for patients who are symptomatic smokers. If patients with COPD can not only be aware, but know the next steps to take — a physician visit and spirometry — their COPD stands a better chance of being treated according to medical guidelines that improve health outcomes.
If diagnosed with COPD, the American Lung Association is ready to help with information and support for sufferers and their loved ones.
“Our message about COPD is one of hope,” said Janine Chambers, the American Lung Association’s Director of Adult Lung Disease Programs. “The key is to get tested early and then learn as much as you can about managing the disease. The bottom line is, COPD is treatable and you can live an active life with COPD.”
Signs and symptoms of COPD include constant coughing, sometimes called “smoker’s cough,” shortness of breath while doing everyday activities, producing a lot of phlegm, feeling like you can’t breathe or take a deep breath and wheezing.
Once diagnosed, take the following steps. If you’re a smoker, quit. Take any medicine you’re prescribed exactly as instructed. If you are having problems, talk with your health care provider. Keep as physically fit as possible and discuss pulmonary rehabilitation with your physician as pulmonary rehabilitation can help you rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath. Educate yourself. Get supportfrom resources such as Lung Help Line (1-800-LUNG-USA) and www.lung.org.
Donny Gill is a health educator at the Hardin County Health Department. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.