Today is World COPD Day, an important opportunity to raise awareness about the disease and highlight resources to support patients and their caregivers. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is a chronic lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. The disease is the third leading cause of death in the U.S., yet according to the American Lung Association, many Americans are unaware that they have this disease.
"When short of breath, many patients may not mention the symptoms to their doctor, assuming that this is just a natural part of aging," said Meilan King Han, M.D., volunteer spokesperson for the American Lung Association. "This is truly a missed opportunity, as those individuals living with undiagnosed COPD could get treatment to greatly improve their quality of life, which for some might mean more vacations with family, greater activity and energy and, generally, just feeling better on a daily basis. The first step is to talk to your doctor and communicate with your healthcare team."
Between 2007 and 2010, around 8.5 million adults had been diagnosed with COPD, but another 18 million had evidence of impaired lung function, signaling they may have undiagnosed COPD. According to the Lung Association, there are a variety of risk factors for COPD, including smoking, air pollution, exposure to secondhand smoke, dust, fumes and chemicals, or even an inherited version called Alpha-1 Deficiency.
The American Lung Association recommends that those experiencing COPD symptoms—chronic cough, shortness of breath, frequent respiratory infections, significant mucus production (also called phlegm or sputum) and/or wheezing—speak with his or her doctor about obtaining a breathing test called "spirometry" which can help diagnose COPD.
"Breathing is essential to life, and with the right diagnosis, support and care, patients can dramatically improve their quality of life, rather than gasping for air," said Han. "Every day the American Lung Association works to support patients and caregivers through funding research and offering programs, services and science-based lung health information. We know that the first step in getting patients the care they need is awareness, so that they know to speak with their doctor and ask for help if they're having trouble breathing."
The American Lung Association offers support for lung disease patients, their loved ones and caregivers, as well as the general public with lung health questions through Lung.org, Better Breathers Clubs and the toll-free Lung HelpLine (1-800-LUNGUSA), which is staffed by respiratory therapists, certified tobacco cessation counselors, registered nurses and other health professionals.
For media interested in speaking with an expert on lung health or COPD, contact the American Lung Association at [email protected].