Every third Wednesday of November for over 20 years, a spotlight shines on Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). This annual, global occurrence is dedicated to raising awareness of COPD and highlighting the importance of disease education for those who have been diagnosed. The theme for 2023 is poignant, “Breathing is Life – Act Earlier,” and incredibly aligned with the Lung Association’s long favored tagline, “When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”
An estimated 12.5 million people in the U.S. have been diagnosed with COPD with millions more exhibiting symptoms. Though COPD is a leading cause of death and disability, it is also preventable and treatable. So, this World COPD Day, we’re highlighting an important educational message from a doctor and a valuable awareness message from a patient to expand your knowledge of this chronic lung disease.
A Doctor’s Perspective
It can be overwhelming to hear so many medical terms that relate to COPD, and to try to understand what is happening in your lungs when breathing no longer comes easy. Dr. Amit “Bobby” Mahajan helps explain some of these terms in this short two-minute video. Dr. Mahajan explains the important differences between emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Here are the two key takeaways everyone living with or caring for someone with COPD should know:
- If you were diagnosed with emphysema, you have COPD. If you were diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, you have COPD. And if you were diagnosed with both, you guessed it – you have COPD.
- While there is no cure for COPD, treatment is available to help relieve symptoms you are experiencing. Talk to your healthcare provider about treatment options.
A Patient's Story
Mary Lou has been living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) for ten years. She lives in Minnesota and is involved in her local Better Breathers Club and enjoys traveling with friends. Her motto is “if you do not use it, you lose it” so she doesn’t let COPD stop her from staying active with her eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Mary Lou partnered with the American Lung Association to get the word out about her early warning signs of COPD and how she had to self-advocate to get the testing needed to get an early diagnosis. She has this advice for anyone who may be experiencing COPD symptoms.
- It is easy to think these symptoms will go away and try to ignore them. I would encourage anyone who is experiencing a lingering cough, getting short of breath, or frequent colds to call their doctor.
- When talking to your doctor, do not hide any symptoms, be as transparent as possible.
- I recommend taking someone else with you to your appointment. It is helpful to have someone else who can take notes, ask questions and offer support when needed.
- There is hope if you have COPD. I spent 15 years helping Marty (her husband) with his COPD and when I was diagnosed, I knew there were new treatments and ways to help me manage.
Recognizing Early Warning Signs of COPD
COPD may develop slowly and to avoid having symptoms, you may start to change your daily routine. However, as the disease progresses, the symptoms may become worse. While anyone can develop COPD, if you are 40 or older, or currently or previously smoked, you have a higher risk of developing the disease.
The most common symptoms include:
- shortness of breath
- cough that may bring up sputum (phlegm or mucus)
- wheezing or chest tightness
- fatigue or tiredness
- repeated lung infections like pneumonia or bronchitis
If you are experiencing symptoms of COPD or have risk factors, you should talk to your healthcare provider. The sooner you are diagnosed with COPD, the earlier treatment can begin.
Learn more about COPD at Lung.org/COPD.
Blog last updated: November 6, 2023