Lung Disease

Did You Know?

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is the 3rd leading cause of death in the United States. The disease kills more than 120,000 Americans each year—that’s 1 death every 4 minutes—and causes serious, long-term disability. The number of people with COPD is increasing. More than 12 million people are diagnosed with COPD and an additional 12 million likely have the disease and don’t even know it. Here are 4 things YOU can do to live a longer, more active life.

  • Be aware of the risk factors

  • Recognize the symptoms

  • Ask your doctor or health care provider about a simple breathing test

  • Follow treatment advice

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is an umbrella term for lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It is the third-leading cause of death in the United States.

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.

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.

Signs and symptoms

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chronic, mild cough that may produce lower airway mucus
  • Weight loss

On average, the lungs contain 300 million elastic air sacs, called alveoli, in which oxygen is added to the blood and carbon dioxide is removed from it. Emphysema occurs when there is permanent damage to the alveoli and they lose their natural elasticity, become overstretched and ruptured, preventing the lungs from properly functioning. This results in the bloodstream not receiving the required amounts of oxygen.

What causes emphysema?
The normal lung has a unique balance between two chemicals with opposing actions. The elastic fibers allow the lung to expand and contract. When the chemical balance is altered the lungs lose the ability to protect themselves against the destruction of these elastic fibers. Smoking is responsible for the majoirty (80%-90%) of emphysema cases. Individuals born with a protein deficiency known as alpha 1-antitrypsin (AAT) may develop to an inherited form of emphysema.

Chronic bronchitis
Signs and symptoms

  • Chronic cough that produces mucus
  • Shortness of breath

This disorder consists of chronic inflammation and thickening of the lining of the bronchial tubes. Pushing the air through narrowed airways becomes harder and harder. In addition, the inflammation causes the glands of the bronchial tubes to produce excessive amounts of mucus, increasing congestion in the lungs and further inhibiting the ability to breathe. Air flow is hindered and the lungs are endangered.

The primary symptom of chronic bronchitis (as distinct from emphysema) is a chronic cough that produces large amounts of mucus and has persisted for at least 3 months of the year for more than 2 consecutive years. Once the bronchial tubes have been irritated over a long period of time, excessive mucus is produced constantly.

What causes chronic bronchitis?
In addition to smoking, higher rates of chronic bronchitis are found among coal miners, grain handlers, metal molders, and other workers exposed to dust.