You always hear about cancer and heart disease as a couple of the leading causes of death in the United States. These two diseases get a lot of press, and as a result, many people are educated on them. Educating people about deadly diseases is extremely important because this will help to prevent them.
The third leading cause of death, and consequently, the one that is also the easiest to prevent, is COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
What is COPD?
COPD progresses over a long period, but once it starts to get serious, it can't be ignored and begins to make a significant impact on your quality of life. Having a hard time breathing is the one main characteristic of COPD, but it can have a few different causes. Since the symptoms are often the same between emphysema and chronic bronchitis, they refer to them both as COPD. They are also treated in the same ways.
Who Does COPD Affect?
Over 11 million Americans have been diagnosed with COPD, but the unfortunate fact is that another estimated 11 million also have COPD, but aren't aware of it, and haven't been diagnosed. It's for this reason that so many people die from it. COPD kills over 134,000 Americans each year, but this number is growing.
What Causes COPD?
The most common cause for both types of COPD is smoking. This is the reason that with proper education, COPD is mostly preventable. The more people quit smoking, or don't even start, the number of deaths each year will begin to decline. Another cause is air pollution, usually in large cities with much industry. The rarest cause of COPD isn't preventable, and it's from a genetic condition called Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency.
How Do I Know if I Have COPD?
If you've had a cough for longer than 3 weeks, if you're having shortness of breath during regular activities, or if you're experiencing fatigue often, you should get checked out by your doctor. The earlier COPD is caught, the easier it will be to treat. Most cases of COPD aren't diagnosed until they are severe when you need to take medication every day, and even require supplemental oxygen. Of course, if you also suspect that you have COPD and you're a smoker, you should quit right away.
How is COPD Treated?
If you've undergone lung function tests, chest x-rays and an arterial blood gas test and you are diagnosed with COPD, and there are a few ways it can be treated. You can be prescribed a control inhaler or corticosteroid to take every day to keep your symptoms under control. If your blood oxygen level is low, you might need to use supplemental oxygen with oxygen tanks or an oxygen concentrator. Your doctor might also refer you to a pulmonary rehabilitation specialist, who will start you on a program of learning how to manage your COPD.
Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), talk to your doctor or primary care provider.
Page last updated: October 5, 2018
- COPD Foundation. November marks National COPD Awareness Month. https://www.copdfoundation.org/COPD360social/Community/COPD-Digest/Article/312/November-marks-National-COPD-Awareness-Month.aspx
- National Institute of Health. November is National COPD Awareness Month. Published: July 3, 2014. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/copd/event-listing/awareness-month/materials-resources.htm