FOR YOUR HEALTH: November is COPD Awareness Month

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By Diana Leathers

 Up to 24 million Americans show impaired lung function, which is common among those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the third leading cause of death in the United States.

It’s a staggering number, made more so by the fact that only about half of them have been diagnosed. 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; however, it is preventable and can be treated and managed effectively, particularly when the disease is diagnosed early. People at risk of COPD, especially current and former smokers with COPD symptoms, should consult their physicians about a spirometry test in order to diagnose the disease as early as possible and begin treatment.

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.

The American Lung Association has helped provide information and support to people with lung diseases for over 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 are a current or former smoker and/or have any symptoms of COPD, get tested as soon as possible. Luckily, the test, called spirometry, 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, “Currently, it is estimated that only 21 to 35 percent of primary care physicians order spirometry for their symptomatic smokers. If people with COPD can not only be aware, but know the next steps to take with 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 those with COPD and their loved ones. It is there 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.

 “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.”

COPD basics:

 • COPD is a chronic disease that causes shortness of breath and makes breathing difficult and less effective.

 • COPD is the third leading cause of death in the U.S.

 • About 13 million people have been diagnosed, but as many as another 12 million may have the disease and not know it.

 • COPD is preventable and treatable.

 • Getting diagnosed is done by a simple breathing test called spirometry.

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.

• Wheezing.

Once diagnosed:

• If you’re a smoker – quit now.

• 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. The Lung Association has a wealth of information and resources to help you better understand your lungs and COPD.

• Get support. Controlling COPD is easier as a team effort. Ask for and get support from those who love you.

For more information call the Lung Help Line (1-800-LUNG-USA) or you can get online support at www.lung.org