Breathing Matters: November is COPD Awareness Month

~ By John Streit, RRT, American Lung Association in Colorado ~

Many of us taking our breathing for granted, but Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, or COPD, is an umbrella term for lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and is the third-leading cause of death in the United States. November marks COPD awareness month in Colorado and many States across the country. While it is difficult to characterize the burden of COPD in the state of Colorado, national data estimates the number of Coloradans with a diagnosis of COPD around 200,000. Given that the prevalence of COPD measured by lung function testing is roughly 2.4 times higher than the number based on self-report, we expect the disease affects between 330,000 and 450,000 people in the state. This number may even be low. There are steps that can be taken however, to live a longer more active life.

How do I know if I have COPD? Signs and symptoms include: chronic cough, shortness of breath while doing everyday activities, frequent respiratory infections, fatigue, or wheezing. If you are at risk for COPD or have symptoms of COPD, you should be tested through spirometry. Spirometry is a simple test of how well your lungs work. For this test, you blow air into a mouthpiece and tubing attached to a small machine. The machine measures the amount of air you blow out and how fast you can blow it. Your doctor will also ask for a complete health history and do a health exam. If you are diagnosed with COPD, you and your doctor will discuss a treatment plan just for you.

One important part of managing COPD is learning how to talk to your doctor and other healthcare professionals about how you feel, how to take your medicines and other medical treatments. Another important part of managing your COPD is finding help from others who share your disease and many of the same experiences. There are several Better Breathers Clubs that meet regularly to learn about tips and techniques to better manage their disease, the Colorado Lung Health Connection advocacy group, and various pulmonary rehabilitation facilities that offer clinical support and treatment.

The most common cause of COPD is long-term smoking. Unfortunately, many current and former smokers do not notice or acknowledge their symptoms for years. They may notice that they get short of breath after climbing a flight of stairs, but they write it off to aging and take the elevator. By the time they see a physician, their lungs have already suffered irreversible damage. That’s why detecting COPD early is vital. The American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking¨ program offers help for smokers who want to quit. This successful program is available in clinics and online. Another contributor is Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency (Alpha-1), which is a condition that is passed from parents to their children through their genes. This condition may result in serious lung and/or liver disease at various ages in life. Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency should be tested for the disorder among population groups at high risk for Alpha-1. Early diagnosis and adherence to the proper health management plan are important elements to attaining an optimal quality of life.

It is inevitable that your life will change after a diagnosis of COPD. It may not be as easy to do the things you used to do before. Not only are there physical challenges, there are emotional challenges too. There is support available to help you make lifestyle changes, better manage your COPD and enhance your quality of life.

For more information on lung health, call the American Lung Association Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-548-8252) to speak to someone directly, or submit a question online. We’re here to answer your lung health questions!
Breathing Matters is presented by the Colorado Lung Health Connection

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