November 1st marks the beginning of National COPD Awareness Month, and even though chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) rates have been steadily rising, general awareness of COPD remains low. COPD Awareness Month is the national answer to increase public awareness of the costs and health risks of COPD, and to highlight COPD prevention tips.
In this blog post, we will explore what COPD is, how to prevent COPD, and helpful resources to get more information on COPD awareness month.
What is COPD?
COPD is a cluster of several diseases including chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma. It is a progressive disease, so once symptoms start to settle in, the condition usually gets progressively worse unless medical intervention occurs.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 251 million cases of COPD globally in 2016. When considering total deaths, 5% of all global deaths were attributed to COPD. And more than 90% of COPD deaths occur in low and middle-income countries.
In the U.S. alone, 16 million people have been diagnosed with COPD, but another 12 million people are still undiagnosed. From these statistics, we can infer that COPD is a serious global health issue affecting mostly low-middle income regions, with large groups of people who aren’t even aware that they have COPD. We could speculate that more educational resources (such as those found in higher income regions) would help curb these rates in lower-income areas. There is likely an opportunity to stop or even reverse course on COPD rates with increased awareness. Moreover, getting people diagnosed is another way to help initiate early treatment in patients who are already experiencing symptoms.
All in all, more awareness is warranted.
What Causes COPD?
The consensus on the cause of COPD is active smoking or secondhand smoke inhalation. While most people would agree with the active smoking part, it is still a challenge to get people to see the clear danger of secondhand smoke inhalation.
Secondhand smoke carries over 7,000 toxic chemicals, some of which are cancer-causing, and can damage the lungs and spawn disease. So while active smokers are definitely at a higher risk for COPD, so are non-smokers who spend a lot of time around smokers such as the children of smokers, waiters and waitresses, and casino workers. This risk is further compounded if you live in a high-pollution area or have a genetic risk towards COPD.
Symptoms of COPD
One of the hallmark symptoms of COPD is shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea. It is normal for most people to feel out of breath after walking up a long flight of stairs. However, if you start feeling short of breath for no apparent reason and have not been exerting yourself, that could be a sign that you have underlying dyspnea.
Other symptoms of COPD include:
- Wheezing (whistling sounds when you breathe)
- Chest tightness
- Excessive mucus production
- Blue lips or fingernails
- Unexplained weight loss
- Swollen feet or ankles
If you experience any of these symptoms regularly, talk to your doctor and ask if you can be screened for COPD.
Diagnosis and Treatment
If your doctor thinks you have COPD, he or she can order many tests to reach a definitive diagnosis:
- Physical exam
- Pulmonary function test
- Imaging tests (x-ray, CT scan)
- Arterial blood gas
- Lab tests
- Pulse oximetry evaluation
With this data, your doctor will be able to come to a definitive diagnosis and begin treatment. Treatment options include:
- Smoking cessation counseling
- Inhaled steroids
- Oxygen therapy
- Pulmonary Rehab
- Lung surgeries (in rare cases)
Prevention of COPD
Prevention is still the best way to manage COPD rates globally. Educating children from an early age is a great way to steer children away from smoking before starting the habit. There are various strategies for smoking cessation programs and policies that have positive effects on childhood smoking rates (8).
It is also important to recognize the preventative value of smoking cessation even with active smokers. While it is true that smoking history does play a role in the later incidence of COPD, smoking cessation can prevent things from getting worse in the future. If you or someone you know is still actively smoking but would like to stop, the American Lung Association has a great set of resources to help (9).
Other Helpful Tools for National COPD Awareness Month
Here is a list of helpful resources to help spread the word and increase general awareness of COPD:
Master List of Lung Disease Websites
This page includes a master list of relevant websites to help you learn more about various respiratory diseases.
COPD Management Guide
If you have been recently diagnosed with COPD and need a broad overview of your options to manage the disease, the American Lung Association has put together a great toolkit of resources.
COPD Educational Videos
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has put together some great videos to help educate people about COPD using the hashtag #COPDjourney on YouTube.
COPD Shareable Social Media Graphics
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has compiled a set of images you can use to share with your friends and family to help spread awareness of COPD.
COPD Support Groups
Living with COPD is a challenge that many non-sufferers have difficulty understanding and relating to the disease. This is where COPD support groups can help. The American Lung Association has a resource to help you find local support groups and connect with one.
Home Concentrator Guide
If you need help figuring out which home oxygen concentrator is best for you, check out our home oxygen concentrator guide to get an overview of the essential features of each device.
COPD Awareness Month is underway, but everyone plays a role in its overall success. The resources in this list will help you get the education to take control of the disease. If you or someone you know has COPD (or is at risk), become part of the COPD awareness team by sharing these resources whenever possible.
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: November 16, 2018
- National Institutes of Health. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). https://report.nih.gov/nihfactsheets/ViewFactSheet.aspx?csid=77
- World Health Organization. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease-(copd)
- John Hopkins Medicine. November is COPD Awareness Month. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/stories/november_copd_awareness_month.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/health_effects/index.htm
- U.S. National Library of Medicine. Preventing Smoking in Children and Adolescents: Recommendations for Practice and Policy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4934164/
- American Lung Association. Stop Smoking. https://www.lung.org/stop-smoking/