November is Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease Month. COPD is the third-leading cause of death in the United States (behind heart disease and cancer) and kills more than 120,000 American each year. It includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, lung diseases characterized by an obstruction to airflow that interferes with normal breathing.
More than 12 million people are diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million are likely to have the disease and not know it.
In recent years, more women than men have died from COPD. The death rate among women has nearly tripled from 1980 to 2005.
In Montana it is estimated that 47,115 people have COPD. The number of people with COPD is increasing and diagnosis can help treatment and management of the disease. Signs and symptoms of COPD include:
• Constant coughing, 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.
These symptoms are often ignored or dismissed as normal signs of aging, or of being out of shape, which explains why so many people remain undiagnosed.
Although COPD can’t be cured, people at risk of COPD, especially current and former smokers with COPD symptoms, should consult their physicians about a simple breathing test called spirometry in order to diagnose the disease.
With approximately one in five Americans over the age of 45 suffering from COPD, it is likely that we each know someone who has the symptoms. The primary cause of COPD is the 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.
There are treatment and resources available for those diagnosed with COPD. If diagnosed with COPD, the American Lung Association is ready to help with information and support for those with COPD and their loved ones.
We are here to help people with COPD quit smoking, learn personal management techniques, improve communication with their doctor, and become more physically active, which along with the proper medication, can make a big difference in one’s quality of life.
• If you’re a smoker – quit now! The American Lung Association has a Freedom from Smoking on-line program to help:www.ffsonline.org.
• Take any medicine you’re prescribed exactly as instructed. If you are having problems, talk with your healthcare provider about possible solutions.
• 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. Trained health professionals are available on the American Lung Association help line (1-800-LUNG-USA) and online support at www.lung.org.
• Get Support. Controlling COPD is easier as a team effort. Ask for and get support from those who love you. Ask your doctor or respiratory therapist if there is a Better Breathers Club or support group in your community.
• Clean air will help your ability to breathe. Make sure indoor and outdoor air quality is at healthy levels by checking wood smoke, pollution and other environmental factors.
You can advocate for strong Clean Air Act standards by participating in a national call-in day to President Obama on Dec. 4 (call (202) 456-1111) or find out information about sending in comments about a strong particulate pollution standard on the American Lung Association’s Healthy Air page at www.lung.org.