As winter draws near, people with respiratory problems are waiting with bated breath. The winter months often cause an exacerbation or acute worsening of COPD symptoms, often leading to other illnesses and even hospitalizations. When I worked in the emergency room, I saw firsthand that a large percentage of hospital admissions this time of year are COPD patients. Even my mother suffered from COPD.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. It’s believed that by 2010, COPD will move up to third place.
COPD refers to a group of lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema that interfere with breathing. These diseases cause lung damage and decrease the lung’s ability to take in oxygen and remove carbon dioxide, resulting in severe breathing difficulties. COPD is progressive, meaning that it grows worse over time. It’s nearly always caused by smoking.
COPD can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Chronic, persistent cough
- Increased mucus
- Shortness of breath, especially during physical activity, but can occur at rest
- A tight feeling in the chest
While there is no cure for COPD, it can be treated. The most important thing to do is to stop smoking. There are several medicines that make breathing easier, including steroids or inhalers. Many people with COPD will eventually need to use supplemental oxygen.
It is important to diagnose COPD as early as possible. Sometimes the subtle symptoms can be dismissed as signs of aging, leaving it undiagnosed until quality of life has rapidly deteriorated and more than 50 percent of lung function has been lost. Unfortunately, many people don’t know they’re at risk, further delaying diagnosis and treatment.
If you or anyone you know is at risk for COPD, see your doctor and learn more about about symptoms and treatment options at the American Lung Association.