Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a leading cause of death in the United States, affecting more than 16 million Americans and millions more who don’t know they have it.
A COPD diagnosis, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, comes with many physical and emotional challenges. However, with proper management, most people with COPD can achieve good symptom control and quality of life.
Could you have COPD?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the main cause of COPD is tobacco smoke, so if you smoke or used to smoke, you are at a higher risk of having COPD. Exposure to air pollution in the home or at work, family history and respiratory infections like pneumonia also increase your risk.
Common signs and symptoms of COPD include:
- Constant coughing, sometimes referred to as a “smoker’s cough”
- Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
- An inability to breath easily or take a deep breath
- Excess mucus production coughed up as sputum
- Blueness of the lips or fingernail beds
- Frequent respiratory infections
- Lack of energy
It is possible to have COPD but not notice symptoms until the disease is in its moderate stage. If you are a current or former smoker, have been exposed to harmful lung irritants for a long period of time or have a family history of COPD, it’s important to ask your doctor about taking a noninvasive spirometry test to measure how well your lungs are working.
How is COPD treated?
Treatment options that your doctor may consider include:
- Quitting smoking - For people who smoke, the most important aspect of treatment is to stop smoking.
- Avoiding tobacco smoke and other air pollutants at home and at work
- Medication - Symptoms such as coughing or wheezing can be treated with medication.
- Pulmonary rehabilitation – Your doctor may recommend a personalized treatment program that teaches you how to manage your COPD symptoms to improve quality of life. Plans may include learning to breathe better, how to conserve your energy and advice on food and exercise.
- Avoiding lung infections - Lung infections can cause serious problems in people with COPD. Certain vaccines, such as flu and pneumonia vaccines, are especially important for people with COPD. Learn more about vaccination recommendations. Respiratory infections should be treated with antibiotics, if appropriate.
- Supplemental oxygen from a portable oxygen tank may be needed if blood oxygen levels are low.
Have questions about your health? Contact your Colorado Physician Partners practice today.
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