COPD is the third highest cause of death in the United States 1, after heart disease and cancer. It affects over 250 million people across the world.2 So why do so few people know about this potentially fatal disease?
What is COPD?
COPD stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It is an umbrella term that refers to a handful of respiratory diseases, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, bronchiectasis and non-reversible asthma.
COPD is a respiratory disease of the lungs and airways. It is typically characterized by inflamed lungs and damaged lung tissue. The disease makes breathing difficult, which can in turn lead to or exacerbate a range of other conditions. As the disease progresses, the lungs become more and more damaged and the symptoms become worse and worse.
What Are the Symptoms of COPD?
COPD affects everybody in different ways. Some of the most common symptoms are:
- Shortness of breath, or difficulty getting a full breath in
- Coughing, both with and without phlegm
- Tiredness, particularly when exercising
- Wheezing or whistling sounds when breathing
- Tightness in the chest
Who Has COPD?
COPD typically affects people aged 65 years or older. It has a higher likelihood of affecting women, as well as people who are unemployed, divorced, or widowed. Those who have not completed a high school diploma are at a greater risk of developing the disease.
Smoking is perhaps the leading factor in COPD development.3 However, there are plenty of non-smokers who develop the disease. COPD can spring from frequent exposure to any lung irritants, such as air pollution and cleaning products. Over time, these irritants degrade lung tissue and make breathing more difficult.
To minimize your chances of developing or worsening your COPD, avoid smoke, pollution, and other irritants. If you haven't already stopped smoking, you should stop immediately. Talk to your doctor about the best way to quit smoking.
What Should I Do If I have COPD?
COPD can limit your ability to perform daily tasks. Physical activities such as climbing stairs or going on walks may become more challenging. If you have a job which requires movement, your job may become hard to complete.
Talk to your doctor if you suspect you have COPD. There is no cure for the disease, but medical treatment can help. Your doctor may recommend avoiding air pollutants, performing breathing exercises, and physical training. By following your doctor’s recommendations, you can reduce your symptoms and increase your ability to take on physical tasks.
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3) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Annual smoking-attributable mortality, years of potential life lost, and productivity losses—United States, 1997–2001. MMWR. 2005;54(250):625-628.