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What You Need to Know About COPD

  • Category: General Health
  • Posted On:
  • Written By: Matt Gougler
What You Need to Know About COPD

Breathing is a fundamental life force, so anything that threatens our ability to breathe demands attention. That's why ATRIO Health Plans is spotlighting November's annual designation as COPD Awareness Month.

As a staring point, COPD stands for Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. And, although it's estimated that some 24-million American adults have COPD, many are unfamiliar with this potentially fatal condition. Ignorance is not bliss, particularly if you're age 65 or older. That's because COPD is the most common chronic respiratory disease among older adults. Additionally, according to the most recent statistics available, COPD is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States.

COPD Overview

COPD actually is an umbrella term for a group of progressive lung diseases that obstruct airflow. This group includes:

  • Chronic bronchitis—A condition characterized by inflammation of the air pathways to the lungs, resulting in limited airflow in and out of the lungs, which can make breathing difficult. Nearly 75 percent of bronchitis patients are over the age of 45.
  • Emphysema—This disease damages the lungs' air sacs, preventing the free movement of air in and out of this vital organ. Consequently, trapped old air leaves little or no room for new air to enter. Breathing thus becomes extremely challenging. Fully 90 percent of those diagnosed with emphysema are older than 45.
  • Refractory (non-reversible) asthma—A type of asthma that's immune to typical asthma medications. During an asthma attack, medication is used to open tightened, swollen airways. For refractory asthma sufferers, these same medications are ineffective. Those with this severe form of asthma require aggressive therapy, including steroid treatment.

COPD Symptoms

COPD often goes unreported and thus untreated, which can lead to fatal outcomes. If you or a loved one exhibits any of the following symptoms, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

  • Shortness of breath—It's normal to experience some shortness of breath after engaging in a strenuous activity, such as walking up a long flight of stairs. It's not normal, however, to experience shortness of breath after engaging in a non-strenuous activity, such as walking a short distance to the mailbox.
  • Daily living activities are draining—Activities of daily living, such as bathing or dressing, leave the person feeling winded and exhausted.
  • Chronic cough—Attention should be paid if a cough progresses from occasional to virtually around-the-clock. A cough that produces phlegm also could be a symptom.
  • Chest tightness and wheezing—These are common symptoms of severe COPD and should be brought to the attention of a medical professional.
  • Loss of appetite and associated weight loss—When people frequently experience shortness of breath, eating becomes difficult, often resulting in a loss of both appetite and weight.
  • Fatigue—Continual breathing difficulties coupled with the body receiving less oxygen, can result in fatigue.

Who should be tested for COPD?

Those who check any of the following boxes should talk to their doctor about being tested for COPD:

  • History of smoking.
  • Long-term exposure to air pollutants (including pollution and second-hand smoke).
  • Chronic coughing with or without phlegm.
  • Frequent wheezing.
  • Shortness of breath that has grown increasingly worse.
  • An inability to keep up (such as just walking) with people in your age group.

Living With COPD

While COPD unquestionably is serious, the majority of sufferers achieve symptom control and enjoy a good quality of life.