Do you get short of breath doing daily activities? Feel like you’re unable to take deep breaths? Are you constantly coughing or wheezing? If you said yes to any of these questions, you may be experiencing symptoms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a serious, potentially devastating lung disease also known as chronic bronchitis or emphysema. Though it’s easy to think of these symptoms as just part of “getting older’’ or as problems that come with allergies, often they are not.
Nearly 16 million people in the United States are currently living with a COPD diagnosis, and millions more don’t know they have it. COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of disability.
In people with COPD, the airways that carry air in and out of the lungs become partially blocked, which makes it increasingly difficult to breathe. If left undetected, the disease can greatly affect your quality of life and your ability to complete even ordinary daily activities.
COPD often occurs in people who have a history of smoking or long-term exposure to secondhand smoke and other lung irritants, such as air pollution, chemical fumes, and dusts from the environment or workplace. The chances of getting COPD also increases significantly in people who have alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a rare genetic condition.
While COPD develops slowly and worsens over time, its symptoms can be treated and its progression can be slowed, which is why early detection and treatment are so important. If you are noticing any issues with your breathing, talk to your health care provider about getting tested for COPD. The sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner treatment can begin. Your provider will design a treatment plan to help address your symptoms and improve your lung function and quality of life.
The key to keeping COPD at bay – or preventing it from getting worse – is to understand and recognize the signs and symptoms early and discuss them with your health care provider. The sooner this happens, the sooner you can get back to doing the things you love.
Through educational efforts like the Learn More Breathe Better program (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/breathebetter ), the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute shares valuable information about the symptoms of COPD, as well as how to diagnose and treat it. With these tools, those living with COPD can effectively manage the disease, and those who have symptoms can find the support and assistance they need.