- - Thursday, November 5, 2015

There are currently 12 million Americans diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and another 12 million that have the disease and do not even know it. Those numbers are staggering. That is why during November’s COPD Awareness Month, volunteers, public health officials, community leaders,and medical professionals are working to shed light on this disease that robs sufferers of their ability to breathe.

COPD is the third-leading cause of death in our country, claiming more than  120,000 lives every year. Yet, it remains somewhat of a silent, invisible disease. Let’s learn to hear and see what this disease is all about so we can breathe easier.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know About COPD

What is COPD?
It is an umbrella term used to describe progressive lung disease where the flow of air into and out of our lungs is impaired. It includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, as well as refractory (non-reversible) asthma and bronchiectasis. It is a serious and deadly disease that over time makes it difficult to breathe.

What is emphysema?
A disease where the delicate walls that line the air sacs in the lungs become damaged. Proper function of the air sacs is imperative for oxygen exchange into our bloodstream. But when air sacs become catawampus—they lose their shape and become floppy—this causes obstruction of air and our body may not get enough oxygen. The damage can also obliterate the air sac walls, causing fewer and larger air sacs. This results in even less surface area by which oxygen can be absorbed into our body.

What is chronic bronchitis?
A disease where the airways leading to the air sacs become chronically irritated and inflamed. And, too, there is thick mucus formation. The combination of these abnormalities causes obstruction of airflow. Because many people will have both conditions—emphysema and chronic bronchitis — the use of the umbrella term COPD, is appropriate.

What are the symptoms of COPD?
• Becoming short of breath while performing everyday activities: walking, housework, playing with their children or grandchildren, carrying groceries
• Wheezing: a whistling or squeaky sound when you breath
• Being unable to take a deep breath
• Coughing frequently, a.k.a. “smoker’s cough”

What are the risk factors for COPD?

The vast majority of cases—90 percent—are the result of cigarette smoking. However, one out of six people who have COPD never smoked. Other causes include long-term exposures to lung irritants such as fumes, chemicals, dust, or second-hand smoke. And, too, a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can be a cause.

At risk – how to get tested? Diagnosis begins with you. By knowing your risk factors, you can seek care from a healthcare profession. In preparation for your appointment, research what the disease is and also keep a log of your symptoms for the days or weeks before your appointment and bring it with you. At your appointment, have a notepad, write down questions, and consider bringing a loved one.

Your health care provider will perform a medical history, social history, and family history; physical examination; and may perform testing. Spirometry is a common, noninvasive, and painless lung function test that can detect COPD before symptoms become severe. It measures the amount of air you can blow out of your lungs (volume) and how fast you can blow it out (flow). That way, your doctor or health care provider can tell if you have COPD, and how severe it is. The spirometry reading can help determine the best course of treatment and if further testing is needed.

There is no cure, so what is the point of getting diagnosed? While a cure is not presently available, lifestyle changes and treatment can allow for
• Relief of symptoms
• Slowing down disease progression
• Improved physical activity
• Prevention of complications
• Improved overall health

What to do if diagnosed with COPD? Your health care provider may prescribe medications as well as pneumonia and seasonal flu shots. In certain cases, enrolling in a pulmonary rehabilitation program may be appropriate. According to the COPD Foundation, this is a comprehensive “program of exercise, education, and support to help sufferers learn to breath—and function — at the highest level possible.” Additionally, quitting smoking and avoiding pollutants or fumes that can irritate your lungs is critical to keeping you breathing easy.

According to the American Lung Association, women now account for more than half of all deaths from the disease and are 37 percent more likely to have COPD than men. Early diagnosis is key. And that starts with knowing your risks and recognizing symptoms. If you or a loved one is diagnosed with COPD, there is hope.

Take action to prevent more damage and make wise health decisions to breathe better!

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